Judge rules victim can identify alleged shooter in court in Audubon Avenue homicides

·3 min read

May 15—Daviess Circuit Court Judge Jay Wethington ruled Friday that the surviving victim in the 2019 shooting that killed three people at an Owensboro home will be able to identify the alleged shooter in court.

After a hearing in Circuit Court, Wethington ruled Carmen Vanegas was not improperly led by Owensboro police detectives when she identified Arnett B. Baines, 33, as the person who shot her and three others the morning of Jan 17, 2019 at a home on Aububon Avenue.

Robert D. Smith, 35, Jay Michael Sowders, 43, and Christopher Carie, 18, were killed in the shooting, which was captured on surveillance video from a camera inside the home.

Baines, of the 0-100 block of Dixiana Court, and Cylar D. Shemwell, 34, of the 1600 block of Wisteria Gardens, were both charged with murder and face the possibility of receiving the death penalty if convicted at trial.

The defense team had filed a motion attempting to have Vanegas' identification of Baines from a photo lineup thrown out. Vanegas identified Baines as the shooter after twice viewing a lineup of six photographs while she was receiving medical treatment in Louisville on Jan. 21, 2019, four days after the incident.

Defense attorney Sara Zuercher argued OPD Detective Todd Wilkerson led Vanegas to identify Baines, while Commonwealth's Attorney Bruce Kuegel argued Vanegas had already given detectives information that identified Baines before she was shown the photo lineup.

Zuercher argued Wilkerson led Vanegas by telling her Baine's nickname and first name.

"She was asked to pick out the person that the police had identified," Zuercher said.

Zuercher also argued Vanegas hadn't had enough time to see Baines, because, according to the statement she gave detectives, she had been in her bedroom and looked out to see a man shooting the others, then closed the door and hid.

A transcript of the interview, parts of which were read during Friday's hearing, stated Vanegas could only describe a 'big fat dude' as the shooter, but she knew he was the boyfriend of a woman named Cora Lee. Detectives had already interviewed the woman Vanegas named and determined she was Baines' girlfriend, Kuegel said.

"(Wilkerson) said, 'Who shot you?' " Kuegel said, and Vanegas replied, "'I can't think of his name. Cora Lee's boyfriend.'

The detective knew who Cora Lee's boyfriend was.

"He wasn't suggestive at all," when interviewing Vanegas, Kuegel said.

The information Vanegas provided confirmed what detectives had already found in the investigation, Kuegel said.

When shown the photo lineup, Vanegas identified Baines as the person who shot the others the second time she was shown the photos, and said, "'I swear to God, he was shooting everybody ... I tried to hide, and he got me,' " Wilkerson testified.

When she identified Baines as the shooter, "It seemed like there was no question, that's him," Wilkerson said.

Zuercher argued Vanegas didn't have time to identify Baines because the camera footage only shows the shooter going into the bedroom and re-emerging 12 seconds later, after Vanegas was shot.

"Ms. Vanegas was not staring at the person. She was hiding under the bed," Zuercher said, adding that Vanegas would have only had a couple of seconds to see the shooter.

In his ruling allowing Vanegas to identify Baines at trial, Wethington said Vanegas had sufficient time to view the person who shot her and said, "12 seconds is a long time if a gun is pointed at you."

"It's ample time to look at someone and identify them," Wethington said.

He also ruled detectives had not been 'unduly suggestive' in their questioning of Vanegas prior to showing her the photo lineup.

"I believe everyone in the photos was a large Black male," Wethington said. "She was able to identify (Baines) as the shooter."

Trial dates for Baines and Shemwell have not yet been set. Shemwell is scheduled to next appear in court later this month for a hearing on motions.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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