Defense attorneys claim Nathaniel Dennis is the wrong man suspected in the 1981 murder of Earnest Russell Douglas.
Dennis was arrested in 2012 and charged with the capital murder for allegedly shooting Earnest Russell Douglas to death during a robbery in 1981. At the age of 45, Douglas was shot at the Northview Amoco Station at 3033 Reeves St. on Sept. 26, 1981, and died from his injuries on Oct. 7, 1981.
During opening arguments Tuesday, District Attorney Pat Jones showed photos of the murder scene to the jury panel, saying he believes the evidence will show the hairs collected from the scene belong to Dennis. He also stated Dennis entered the convenience store, fired a shot from a firearm into a piece of safety glass designed to protect the employee and shattered the glass.
“I believe the evidence will show once the glass was shattered, Dennis climbed through the area and shot Mr. Douglas,” Jones said. “The photos show blood was all inside the building and I believe Mr. Douglas fought for his life. As you can see money is missing from the money till. The ones and fives are left but the 20s are gone. Some tens are visible in the photos.”
In 1981, DNA testing was not available. According to Jones, investigator Charlie Brooks with the Enterprise Crime Lab arrived on the scene and collected multiple pieces of evidence, including a comb, hairs, a female stocking, and a button.
“Mr. Brooks returned the evidence more than a year later to the Dothan Police Department where the evidence would remain until 1996,” Jones said.
In 1996, the evidence was sent for DNA testing. DNA was available but not as advanced as it is today.
Jones stated the evidence was sent back and remained a cold case until 14 years later.
“The evidence was then tested two different times,” Jones said. “No DNA match was given in the state database, but when the results from the DNA were entered into the national database, Dennis was a match.”
Dennis lived and worked in the area at the time the murder occurred.
Defense attorney Andrew George does not dispute his client’s hair was found at the scene. He does, however, dispute the accusation that his client murdered Douglas.
“We are not arguing my client’s hair was not found at the crime scene,” George said. “We are arguing my client had an alibi, and fellow co-workers, and his fellow boss will testify my client was a waiter at a very popular nightclub.”
George believes a Saturday night being the busiest night for the club, Dennis could not sneak off to commit this crime.
During opening arguments, George stated hundreds of hairs were found at the crime scene in 1981, but all hairs were not DNA tested.
George said the hairs submitted for DNA testing are only a lead, not the case.
George also told the jury panel’s attention that following Douglas’ murder, several reports were made to police about a man named Raymond Koonce in relation to the murder.
According to George, Koonce’s brother-in-law made several reports accusing Koonce in the death of Douglas, saying Koonce had to shave his head after the crime due to his hair being yanked out at the murder scene.
In 2011, former Dothan Police Chief Greg Benton told the Dothan Eagle a Houston County grand jury returned an indictment charging Dennis with capital murder-robbery while Dennis was serving a 634-year prison sentence for an attempted murder and robbery in Virginia.
Police say Dennis’ arrest came as a result from the state Department of Forensic Sciences that indicated a match with Dennis’ DNA to evidence collected from the crime scene in the murder.
Dennis’ murder trial is expected to conclude by the end of the week.