Longform

Unreasonable Doubts

Page 3 of 6

Rogelio Chin, "Ro" to his friends, was born in Brooklyn in 1976 of mixed racial and ethnic background--part African-American, Chinese, Jewish, and Puerto Rican. His mother moved him and his now-14-year-old sister to Dallas in 1988.

"Drugs and crime were horrible in my neighborhood," says Veronica Chin, who had in-laws in Dallas. Rogelio's father stayed in New York, although he still saw his son from time to time. The Chins rented an apartment in North Dallas, in the Walnut Hill-Greenville area. Rogelio, who was held back a year in school, graduated from Lincoln High School in June 1996.

Although the jury heard none of it, Chin had assembled a fairly extensive history as a petty criminal between his 17th birthday and his death three years later.

His mother, who was busy supporting the family with two jobs, says she never met some of the guys with whom he was spending most of his time, young men with prior criminal charges, including drug dealing and robbery.

Between 1993 and mid-1996, Dallas police charged Rogelio with 10 crimes, including six car burglaries, engaging in organized crime, and unlawfully carrying a handgun. He was convicted of three: unlawfully carrying a handgun, and two car burglaries carried out in 1995. He was on probation for the misdemeanor handgun charge at the time of his death, county records show.

Instead of that history, however, jurors heard the victim's mother say he was going to college to study electronics. He was planning to enroll at Brookhaven Community College the very day he died, she said.

Rogelio's activities that night were known only to two young men, Lamont Sneed and Antonio Curry, and only one of them agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The 20-year-old Sneed, who said he knew Chin for about a year, told jurors that his friend had driven him and Curry to the Lakeside Nightclub on Northwest Highway, where they stayed until the 2 a.m. closing. "We just had a good time and left," Sneed told the court.

Chin and his friends drove a few blocks to the Racetrac gas station on Harry Hines Boulevard, a customary after-hours spot for the Lakeside crowd. They stayed there for a while, but that night police dispersed the crowd. Sneed testified that Chin left the gas station and steered his car onto Stemmons, heading south toward Sneed's house in East Dallas.

"We noticed a black pickup following us," Sneed told the court, explaining what he saw from the passenger seat. "We [had] seen it at the Racetrac. I observed it pull up on my side, and I could see...some Mexicans in the truck. They was like waving their arms like slow down, pull over."

Sneed told the court that Chin just kept driving, and a few moments later, the truck was at his side. "I glanced up, and I could see one of the guys hanging out the window with a gun, and my first reaction was like, say something, say like he had a gun or something. But it was too late, because he had already fired."

Sneed said he could see Chin's "head go down, and I could see blood." Sneed then drove off the road; the car hit a tree and a sign and came to a stop. "Did you get a good look at that person who did the shooting?" Moffitt asked in court. "Yes, I did," Sneed responded.

He then told the court that Ramirez, the man with the slicked-back hair wearing "the white shirt, black tie with designs in it with the black pants and black shoes," was the one.

Sneed told the jury he'd looked at Ramirez's mug shot in a photo lineup four days after the shooting. He "narrowed it down" to Ramirez, but did not make a positive identification at that time, he said.

Perez, who based his case on a claim of mistaken identity, made much of Sneed's hesitancy in making that ID. "You had a chance on December 13 to identify the shooter, didn't you?" Perez asked. Sneed argued about the question for a bit, and finally said it was easier for him to identify people in person.

Another witness, a young woman named Monie Newton, told the jury that she and "my homegirls Rhonda and Toya" had gone from the club to the Racetrac that night and saw Chin and his friends. She had known the victim through a girlfriend, she said.

Newton told the jury she saw Ramirez and another man tuck pistols in their pants, get out of a black truck, and go in the direction of several black teens in the gas station parking lot.

Moffitt expected to cement his case with a third key witness, Ramirez's girlfriend, but he was about to get sandbagged. Literally overnight, Andrea Brooks had turned from state's witness to would-be alibi.

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Thomas Korosec
Contact: Thomas Korosec

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