Club Babylon case moves toward grand jury
Curtis Johnson / The Herald-Dispatch
Nicole Gutierrez Hughes, 22, appears at a preliminary hearing with her attorney, Dennis Kelley, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2009, in Cabell County Magistrate Court.
HUNTINGTON, WV -- A Cabell County magistrate found probable cause to keep a 22-year-old woman behind bars on a charge linked to an exchange of gunfire that killed one man and wounded three others at a downtown nightclub in November.
Nicole Gutierrez Hughes, charged with felony accessory before the fact to attempted murder, appeared at Tuesday's hearing. She listened to Huntington Police Detective Chris Sperry recount a confession she gave to police.
The Nov. 8 shooting happened about 3 a.m. at 831 4th Ave., home at the time to Club Babylon.
Sperry testified that Hughes claimed to have carried a gun into the nightclub and provided it to Michigan native Reginald Marbury, who allegedly used the weapon to shoot Sontezz Lomax, 29, of Huntington. He said that clarified events for investigators, who wondered how a man could have been properly searched and still have a weapon inside the club.
"Apparently, Mr. Marbury came to her expecting some trouble," Sperry testified. "She says that she went outside, got the gun, brought it back in through the out door, through the exit, and met Mr. Marbury back somewhere by the bathroom area and gave him the gun."
Marbury, 25, and Lomax were shot in the exchange, along with Christopher Lewis, 28, of Thurmond, Ohio. Lomax and Lewis both were treated and released at local hospitals. Joe Jeremaine Porter, 30, of Huntington died in a police-involved shooting that followed at the club.
Sperry testified that officers recovered two firearms from the scene, both .45 caliber handguns. One was located in an alley between 3rd and 4th avenues. They also recovered numerous shell casings of the .45 caliber and 9 mm variety.
Officers recovered .45 caliber shell casings from around where Lomax was found, but Sperry said investigators are still waiting on independent, ballistic evidence to confirm which weapon struck Lomax.
However, Sperry testified somebody confessed to shooting Lomax, and the person arrested was Marbury. He said investigators believe the gun used to injure Lomax was an IMI .45 caliber handgun.
Marbury, during an interview with police, pointed the finger at Hughes for providing his weapon. His statement is mentioned in the court document charging Hughes, but defense attorney Dennis Kelley called it hearsay and objected to Sperry testifying about the accusation Tuesday.
Kelley also seized on Sperry's inability to back up his theory with ballistic evidence.
"We have two different weapons of the same caliber, and there is no way of determining which weapon shot Mr. Lomax," he argued.
Assistant Prosecutor Lauren Plymale said Hughes' reported confession was evidence enough to sustain the charge.
Magistrate Ron Baumgardner agreed.
Cases against Hughes and Marbury could be presented to next month's grand jury.
The Huntington Police Department has said one of its officers fatally shot Porter, when the 30-year-old pointed a gun in the officer's direction.
Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook has never released the officer's name, but allowed the officer to return to work 16 days later.
Holbrook has cited the ongoing investigation and the officer's well-being in delaying the release of his name. The chief has vowed to identify the officer at a time he deems appropriate, likely after ballistic tests are concluded at a federal laboratory in Maryland.
Sperry testified those results had not been received as of Tuesday. He further testified officers are still investigating as to how the second, .45 caliber handgun entered the nightclub.
Hughes remains incarcerated at the Western Regional Jail.
Marbury was released Nov. 25 from the South Central Regional Jail in South Charleston, W.Va., according to jail records.