Tom Olsen

tolsen@duluthnews.com

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Angella Baumgartner was sleeping in on the morning of Jan. 15, 2012, when she heard a commotion outside her bedroom door.

She went in her living room and found Toriano Cooper, a close friend and a member of her extended family, on the floor in her living room. Her two young children were also there.

Initially, thinking that he was just playing, Baumgartner quickly realized something was very wrong. Cooper said something before dying, but it came out garbled.

“It was either ‘They got me’ or ‘They shot me,’” she testified Tuesday in Douglas County Circuit Court.

Cooper died at Baumgartner’s home, 1901 N. 12th St. in Superior after being shot while working on a car in front of the house. Tiawain Albert Johnson, 22, of Chicago is on trial this week for first-degree intentional homicide.

Baumgartner was one of seven witnesses to take the stand Tuesday. Others included police officers, a medical examiner and a prison inmate.

Baumgartner testified that Cooper was close to her family, and he stopped into her house nearly every day to check up on them.

She said she spoke briefly with Cooper at her house the day of the shooting. Cooper stopped by and was working on his car out front around 9:30 a.m., but Baumgartner went back to bed. A short time later, she was awoken by the shooting. Baumgartner recalled calling 911 and putting her kids in the closet until police arrived.

“I was hysterical,” she said.

Defense attorney Aaron Nelson asked Baumgartner to reiterate Cooper’s final words. She said she was confident his first word was “they.” On a whiteboard in front of the jury, Nelson underlined the word “they.”

A day earlier, during opening statements, Nelson suggested that evidence would show that brothers Jerard Hampton and Michael Hawkins were behind the shooting.

The jury of eight women and four men also viewed surveillance from cameras at nearby businesses. Deputy Police Chief Nicholas Alexander showed jurors video of a white Volvo crossover passing by the scene numerous times in the minutes before Cooper was shot. He said police believe the vehicle was typically driven by Hampton.

Moments after the car is last seen, video appears to show a person walking in front of Baumgartner’s home, shooting Cooper and quickly running away. The footage, however, was taken from a significant distance and is partially obscured by a timestamp.

Alexander said the connection to the white Volvo was only made following a tip from an informant months later. Johnson was not charged with the murder until June 2013.

Rayard Herron, a prisoner at the Moose Lake Correctional Facility, provided support for District Attorney Dan Blank’s contention that Johnson killed Cooper in revenge for a robbery at his home.

Herron described Cooper as his best friend of six years. He said Cooper had struggled with drug addiction, but was doing better, making a living selling marijuana and fixing cars.

Herron said he knew Johnson as “Green,” and had met him on a few occasions. He said he knew Cooper used to sell marijuana to Johnson. Herron said that just a few weeks before Cooper’s death, he got a call asking him to help him rob Johnson. They had been involved in a few robberies before, he said.

“I said, ‘I thought that was your guy. I thought that was your boy,’” Herron testified. “He was like, ‘Well, you know, we gonna get him.’”

Herron said he gave Cooper a ride to Johnson’s apartment. He called Johnson and told him to come downstairs to conduct a drug deal. Herron then left the scene while Cooper and other men took part in the robbery. In exchange for his limited assistance, Herron said he received some cocaine stolen from Johnson.

Herron said he later received an angry phone call from Johnson, accusing him of the burglary. He denied responsibility.

In police interviews after Cooper’s death, Herron said police were initially only interested in asking whether he was involved in the killing. It was not until a third interview months later that he told investigators about the burglary.

Blank asked Herron why he didn’t mention the burglary at Johnson’s house sooner. He said he had been involved in numerous burglaries before, and considered the theft from Johnson’s house small.

“Honestly, it’s not a lot,” he testified. “I wouldn’t suspect nobody would take nobody’s life for that.”

Nelson repeatedly called Herron’s credibility into question and pointed out to jurors the fact that Herron was receiving a plea agreement in a Douglas County case in exchange for his testimony.

Herron has pleaded guilty to a gun charge, but under the terms of the agreement, will get credit for time served when he is sentenced in March 2015. He has already serving prison time in Minnesota for a gun charge.

The agreement stipulates that the offer will be withdrawn if Herron is found to be “complicit with or party to the commission of the Toriano Cooper homicide.”

“What the government does at sentencing depends on what you say today?” Nelson asked.

“Yes,” Herron acknowledged.

In other testimony Tuesday, Dr. Ann Bracey discussed the autopsy she performed on Cooper’s body. Bracey said Cooper was killed by a bullet that pierced his heart and lung, causing significant internal bleeding. A second bullet, which passed through one thigh before lodging in his other leg, was not considered life-threatening.

According to police testimony, two shell casings from a .380 pistol were found in front of the house.

Several other prisoners are expected to take the stand when testimony resumes this morning. The trial is expected to last all week.