A gang expert said tattoos shown in photos of Derrick McElroy are consistent with those used by members of the Bloods gang
Mike Stueckrath, a detective with the Des Moines Police Department and a nationally recognized gang expert, reviewed the photos during McElroy's first-degree murder trial in Webster County District Court Thursday.
McElroy is accused of shooting Brandyn Preston in the neck at a bonfire party in Fort Dodge on May 8, 2011. Preston, who was paralyzed from the neck down, died eight months after the shooting from complications related to his injuries.
The shooting may have been the result of a feud between two rival gangs.
However, Preston was not associated with any gang.
In court, Stueckrath examined photos taken from McElroy's Facebook page by Fort Dodge Police Detective Tom Steck in 2012.
Stueckrath identified a five-pointed star shaded in red on McElroy's neck, as well as the letters "M," "O" and "B" tattooed on his face, as being associated with the Bloods.
Stueckrath also said the hand sign McElroy was seen using in five photos "represents the letter 'B'," and is also associated with the Bloods.
But during questioning by defense attorney Charles Kenville, the detective said that the tattoos may not exclusively mean McElroy is a Blood.
"The tattoos that you talked about can have whole new meanings, correct?" Kenville asked.
"Yes," Stueckrath said.
He also said that just being in a gang is not illegal.
"It's only illegal when you're doing something that's illegal, right?" Kenville asked.
"Yes," Stueckrath said.
Jurors also heard from Special Agent Jim Thiele, of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Thiele, who was assigned as the case agent for the Preston shooting, said the first few days of the investigation were spent trying to identify potential suspects and looking for clues.
"Through the course of the investigation on May 8 and 9, we found no projectiles at the scene," Thiele said. "We had scoured the area fairly thoroughly, and we were unable to locate any at that time."
As a result, Thiele said the gun that was used to shoot Preston couldn't be identified, although on May 16, 2011, a Ruger .22-caliber rifle, which was found at McElroy's grandfather's house, was sent to the DCI Crime Lab in Ankeny for analysis.
That rifle was later identified by Andy Schulte as one he had received as a gift from his parents.
Schulte, originally of Lake View, said he had the gun in his Fort Dodge apartment while he attended Iowa Central Community College in the fall of 2010.
While in Fort Dodge, Schulte met McElroy and at one point showed him the gun.
Schulte said as he was moving out of his apartment, he discovered his rifle was missing.
He never reported it stolen because "it was a cheap gun. I didn't think anything, I guess, would happen."
The investigation continued until Jan. 22, 2012, when Preston died. Working with detectives in Tampa, Florida, Thiele requested that the bullet, which was lodged in Preston's spine, be removed during the autopsy and sent back to Iowa.
"It was a critical piece of evidence in our investigation," Thiele said.
On March 12, 2012, Thiele learned that a witness had come forward and wanted to provide information in Preston's shooting.
The witness is a convicted drug dealer who is serving time in federal prison on conspiracy charges.
His name and image are being withheld by The Messenger for safety reasons.
He testified Thursday that he had met McElroy prior to the shooting and was involved in a conversation in which McElroy said he had a "chopper," which the witness interpreted as an AK-47, with a "big old scope on it."
McElroy, he said, told him and another man present during the conversation that "he could see people running around in the backyard" and emptied the weapon's clip. McElroy also told the witness that he hit someone in the neck, but was not aiming at a specific person.
The witness also said that McElroy was one of a group of people who had identified themselves as members of the Bloods.
Under cross examination, Kenville asked the witness why he didn't report this information to investigators until after the witness found out he was facing a life sentence in federal prison.
"You had a chance, apparently, back in December (2011) when you first talked to police, to mention something about this and you didn't," Kenville said.
The witness admitted to Kenville that he agreed to give up information for the possibility of a lighter sentence.
"The cooperation agreement you signed talked about the fact that you will get a chance to go back in front of the judge at some point, and you will get a chance to get a reduction in time," Kenville said.
"It's a possibility," the witness replied.
"Your discharge date might come sooner," Kenville said. "If you don't cooperate, you have no chance of that,"
The witness said his sentence was not reduced and he did not make any agreement with prosecutors in the Preston case.
He also denied lying to get a lighter sentence under questioning from Doug Hammerand, assistant Iowa attorney general.
"Would you come into a courtroom and make up statements to get out of prison earlier?" Hammerand asked the witness.
"Absolutely not," the witness said.
Jurors also heard from Jordana Fowler, who testified that she and McElroy were acquaintances.
She said McElroy had never specifically said he was a Blood, but that she had seen him "throwing up gang signs" and wearing the Bloods' color of red, including a bandanna in his back pocket.
Fowler, of Fort Dodge, who said McElroy identified other people as Bloods, testified that she had received calls from him on the day of the shooting from a specific phone number. That same number was identified by a previous witness as being McElroy's. Eventually, Fowler said, the phone with that number appeared to be in someone else's possession.
Fowler testified that about a week after the shooting, McElroy told her he needed to get out of town, maybe heading to Las Vegas or California.
Chris Callaway, a special agent with the DCI, who showed up at the crime scene about 7 a.m. the Sunday of the shooting, said he helped interview witnesses and canvass the area.
Former DCI supervisor Larry Hedlund had been questioned Wednesday regarding whether he touched a rifle found in the basement of a house that belonged to McElroy's grandfather. Callaway said he, not Hedlund, was the person who handled the weapon and he was wearing gloves at the time.
Callaway went on to describe the Ruger. He also said he went to Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where Preston had been airlifted, and visited with doctors there who said "they could not remove the bullet (that entered Preston's neck) at that time."
Thiele is expected to continue his testimony this morning.