CLEARWATER - It was just after midnight.
Mechanic Gary Small had just boiled some noodles and taken them up to his tiny loft apartment in a warehouse-style building when he heard a rapid succession of pops. Curious, thinking perhaps it was fire crackers, he walked downstairs and into a nightmare.
At the bottom of the stairs, he opened a door to an adjacent recording studio and was pistol-whipped in the head. He pushed his assailant into a wall and escaped into a bathroom, but he made the mistake of coming out again, according to prosecutors.
That's when his assailant shot him three times. Small fell to the ground and tried playing dead, but it did no good. He was shot twice more.
He lay there, hearing voices leave the building, and then got up. He made his way out of the building, walked into a retention pond and returned once he saw a vehicle leave, only to find two young men in the recording studio who had been shot, execution-style, in what "looked like a scene out of the Godfather," according to Assistant State Attorney Mark McGarry.
That was the scene depicted by McGarry on Tuesday as the trial of the man authorities say tried to kill Small, 48 - and successfully killed Kyle Ellis, 24, and Cabretti Wheeler, 21 - got underway. Ellis was shot four times, Wheeler nine.
Jerry Tyrone Jones, 24, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in the Sept. 6, 2008, shooting at 8191 46th Ave. N. The address housed Dat's Right Audio, where Ellis and Wheeler, aspiring rappers, often hung out or stayed. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
Prosecutors acknowledge there is another suspect in the case whose identity they do not know. Small is crucial to their case.
"He was very afraid and very paranoid," McGarry told jurors. "He knew he was the one person on this planet that could identify Jerry Jones as the murderer."
There are apparently problems with his account, and Jones didn't surface as a suspect for more than two years.
Even though Small was face to face with his assailant, he failed to mention to a 911 dispatcher, and to an investigator who interviewed him at the hospital, a singular linear indentation on Jones' forehead as an identifying trait.
Small also is blind in one eye.
"This is a case of mistaken identification," Assistant Public Defender Stacey Schroeder told jurors in her opening remarks.
The case had been shelved for two years. When it was reassigned as a cold case, two detectives new to the investigation looked in the file and saw some handwritten notes about a man with a linear dent in his head who went by the nickname Beans, which, according to a law enforcement database, is Jones' nickname.
Investigators then learned that Jones bought a gold 1994 Oldsmobile Cutlass two months before the slaying, McGarry said. Small said that was the car he saw while he was hiding in the retention pond.
He also picked Jones' photograph out of photos of six suspects, all off them with scars on their head, McGarry said, and identified Jones as the man who shot him with a 9 mm automatic pistol.
After Jones was arrested in April 2011, investigators monitored him at the Pinellas County Jail. By listening to his recorded phone calls, they discovered Jones told someone he wasn't going to name his accomplice, McGarry said.
And by reading his mail, they discovered he was corresponding with a woman inmate, Krystal Coston. Reluctant at first to cooperate, she eventually helped with the investigation. Jones admitted to her during conversations through a ventilation shaft that he killed the two men, McGarry said.
"The only motive that she was able to ascertain is it was a G-thing," McGarry said. "G standing for gangster."