Chaz Joseph Burgest went on trial beginning Wednesday, Feb. 8, in Bulloch County Superior Court on murder and other charges for the death of De’onta Trowel Mosteller, 26, who was shot April 23, 2022, at Pinewood Manor apartments on Packinghouse Road.
The trial, slated for up to three days on the court calendar, progressed rapidly through attorneys’ brief opening statements and witnesses’ testimony, including Burgest’s taking the stand in his own defense Wednesday afternoon. With first the prosecution and then the defense having rested their cases, Judge F. Gates Peed released the jury before 4:30 p.m. with instructions to return by 9 a.m. Thursday, when the attorneys are to make closing arguments.
Video, especially from security cameras at the apartment complex, which is tied into the Statesboro Police Department’s contracted Fusus video sharing service, has played a prominent role in the case.
In their opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Russell Jones asserted that what Burgest did in shooting Mosteller was murder, but Burgest’s defense attorney, David N. Ghazi, asserted that the evidence would show it was self-defense.
“The defendant shot De’onta twice with a revolver and fled the scene,” Jones told jurors.
He asserted that, when interview by Statesboro Police Capt. Jared Akins, Burgest had admitted “that he was at Pinewood Manor on the day in question, April 23 last year, and that he shot De’onta as De’onta was walking away.”
Noting that Mosteller had been shot in the face and arm, Jones said the shooting victim had “turned his face at the last minute.”
Mosteller fell behind Pinewood Manor’s “L” Building, where he and his girlfriend and their children reportedly lived. Some people had a barbecue behind the building that Saturday afternoon and were milling around the grill when shots were fired.
A number of people were still there, beyond a breezeway through the building where there is a stairway, when police arrived in answer to a call about 6:45 p.m.
As jurors saw in video from the body-worn camera of Statesboro Police Sgt. Nathan Janney, when he walked through the breezeway and arrived first on the scene, Mosteller was flat on his back and motionless, his arms spread-eagle to either side, eyes fixed upward. A woman was lying across, hugging him, and a blood-soaked towel was across his neck.
After she was moved away, the amount of blood could be seen. A single, round hole was visible between his right eye and cheek. Dr. Joni Skipper, forensic pathologist who as of last spring was with the GBI Crime Lab in Pooler, testified Wednesday that two wounds showed Mosteller was shot once in the face and once through the right arm, where the entry wound was on the back of the arm.
In his opening remarks, the prosecutor also stated that Burgest had said he fired four shots. Shooting from the breezeway, he wasn’t seen on surveillance video until he ran out of the breezeway toward the front of the building, Jones said.
When interviewed by police, Burgest claimed “that prior to the shooting the victim walked behind him and had a gun in his pocket, claimed that the victim had a gun in his pocket” and that “he had to shoot the victim because he was terrified,” Jones said.
Police found a handgun, a Jimenez .380 semiautomatic pistol, beside Mosteller’s body, and Jones said he wouldn’t hide the fact that Mosteller had a pistol on him at the time of his death, but he asserted that this fact showed nothing more.
Although police and prosecutor maintained that the video from two surveillance cameras at the apartment complex helps make their case against Burgest, the defense attorney asserted that it would support the claim of self-defense.
“You’re going to see, from a distance the apartment complex camera that shows Mosteller, the victim, reach for his gun and actually pull his gun out,” Ghazi told the jurors in his opening statement. “There will be evidence to that extent that you’re going to be able to see. Thank goodness that that camera caught that and that the evidence is not what the state alleges it is.”
He said Burgest had told police the truth and they had not believed him.
“Our client went in a couple of days after the incident, told the investigator what occurred,” Ghazi said. “Why didn’t he believe him? Why didn’t he believe it was self-defense? Why did he charge him? I’m going to assert as a theory that one of the reasons why they don’t is because they’ve already got an idea of what happened, based on my client not stopping.”
Burgest, now 33, has been held at the Bulloch County Jail since April 26, the day he turned himself in at the Statesboro Police Department. That was three days after Mosteller was killed and one day after police obtained a warrant charging Burgest and asked the U.S. Marshals Service to help locate and arrest him. When he turned himself in, he also surrendered his handgun, the Taurus .38-caliber revolver mentioned in the indictment.
The charges facing Burgest from the June 13 grand jury indictment were malice murder and felony murder, both for the death of Mosteller, and aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony. Attorneys’ discussions with the judge suggest that voluntary or involuntary manslaughter could be lesser charge options included in instructions to the trial jury.
After the jury was selected Jan. 30 and a final pretrial motions conference was held Friday, Feb. 3, Ghazi filed a motion Monday, Feb. 6, seeking an immunity hearing based on the self-defense claim and to dismiss the indictment.
Later Monday, Peed issued an order rejecting the motion as untimely. But as is standard in such orders, he acknowledged that Burgest might still “pursue an affirmative defense of self-defense at trial.”