A murder trial began Monday for a Fresno man who is accused of fatally shooting a woman and trying to kill her husband inside the Crossroads nightclub in March 2014.
But a lawyer for defendant Craig Lamar Foster says he fired his gun in self-defense.
In opening statements, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said Foster, 46, murdered 28-year-old Janae Tatum by shooting her in the head and attempted to murder Herman Leon Tatum, 38, by shooting him twice in the back as he shielded his wife’s body from further gunfire.
Before he fired four times, Foster cursed the victims and told them that they didn’t know who they were messing with, Brickey told the Fresno County Superior Court jury.
Herman acted as the aggressor. Foster fired to protect his own life.
Defense attorney Eric Green
But Foster’s lawyer, Eric Green, told jurors that the prosecution failed to reveal a key point – Foster saw Herman Tatum reach for a gun in his waistband.
“Herman acted as the aggressor,” Green said. “Foster fired to protect his own life.”
The shooting happened in the late hours of March 23, 2014, after police say Foster tried to hit on Janae Tatum, but got into an argument with her husband. The shooting and other violent incidents at the nightclub led to its closure at Cedar and Shields avenues.
If convicted of murder and attempted murder, Foster faces life in prison. The trial in Judge Timothy Kams’ courtroom is expected to take one to two weeks.
Police say Foster is known as “Crayzo” and is a member of the 107 Hoover Crips.
He left Fresno after the shooting, but was captured six weeks later by a federal FBI task force in Cleveland, Ohio. He initially told federal agents that his name was Anthony Smith before admitting his true identity, Fresno police said at the time of his capture.
In a telephone call monitored by the FBI, Foster said “the thump, thump” was in a garbage can inside his apartment in Cleveland. Federal agents later found a 9 mm handgun under the plastic liner of the trash can, prosecutor Gabriel Brickey said.
In his opening remarks, Brickey told jurors that while in custody in Ohio, Foster’s telephone conversations were being monitored. In one call, according to Brickey, Foster told someone that “the thump, thump” was in a garbage can inside his apartment in Cleveland. Federal agents went to apartment and found a 9 mm handgun under the plastic liner of a trash can, Brickey said.
“That was the murder weapon,” Brickey said, noting that a ballistic test showed that the four shell casings at the Crossroads crime scene were matched to the gun.
Before the shooting, Foster and the Tatums didn’t know each other, Green said.
Earlier that day, Foster and the Tatums attended a barbecue at the Hinton Center, Brickey said. At the barbecue, Foster wore a T-shirt that read, “Fresno, Nothing but Love,” Brickey told the jury.
After the barbecue, the gathering decided to go to the Crossroads nightclub to socialize and drink, Brickey said. Inside the nightclub, Foster made a pass at Janae Tatum and asked her out, Brickey said. Herman Tatum then told Foster that he and Janae were married.
According to Brickey, Foster started a fight by cursing the Tatums. He then pulled out from his pants pocket a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and began shooting.
After the shooting, police found two witnesses who saw the gunman. The two witnesses and Herman Tatum later picked Foster out of a police photo lineup, Brickey said.
Green agreed that Foster was the shooter. But he said Herman Tatum was armed with .45-caliber handgun.
“It’s unfortunate that the victims were shot,” Green told the jury. “But it was self-defense.”