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Court papers detail Ernie's Cafe murder investigation

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published February 08. 2013 4:00AM   Updated February 08. 2013 12:29PM
New London police built case over six years against two defendants

New London police identified Darius Armadore and Gerjuan R. Tyus as persons of interest soon after 30-year-old Todd Thomas was fatally shot in front of Ernie's Cafe on Dec. 23, 2006, according to a court document unsealed Thursday in Superior Court.

Over the next six years, police built a case against the two men using forensic evidence and information obtained from witnesses who were often reluctant to speak to them, according to a 14-page affidavit written by Detective Richard E. Curcuro.

In November 2012, after presenting information to a grand jury, police obtained an arrest warrant charging Armadore, 32, also known as "P-Nut," and Tyus, 32, also known as "Cali," with murder. Both men are being held in prison in lieu of $1 million bonds while their cases are pending in New London Superior Court.

Shot in the head

According to the affidavit, Thomas was shot in the head as he stood outside of Ernie's Cafe at 55 Bank St. smoking a cigarette shortly after midnight. Dr. Malka B. Shah, the medical examiner who autopsied his body, noted that the entrance wound exhibited "stippling," or powder abrasions, which indicate he was shot at close range.

Through witness interviews, the investigators linked Thomas' death to a drive-by shooting that had occurred three weeks earlier on Willetts Avenue. Witnesses told police that Tyus and Thomas had exchanged gunfire as Thomas drove by 24 Willetts Ave. in a white Lexus on Dec. 3, 2006. Tyus suffered wounds in the leg and back that were not life-threatening.

Feuding over necklaces

The witnesses said Thomas and Tyus were feuding because Tyus had two gold necklaces, including one with a heavy Jesus medallion, that belonged to Thomas' brother, John "John John" Thomas, according to the affidavit.

Eventually, "John John," who claimed the necklaces were worth $10,000 each, admitted to police that he was high on PCP when he encountered Tyus at a Broad Street convenience store and put the necklaces around Tyus' neck. He said Tyus "just kept them," and that he was willing to let them go but his brother Todd wanted to get them back. "John John" told police that Tyus said Todd Thomas could have the necklaces back for $10,000.

The state forensic laboratory conducted ballistic testing and determined that five 9 mm shell casings collected at the Willetts Avenue shooting and the single shell casing recovered at the homicide crime scene were fired from the same gun.

Interviewed by police four days after the homicide, Tyus said he and Armadore had picked up some women in Dorchester, Mass., the night of the homicide and driven directly to the Bella Notte nightclub in Norwich.

A witness who was at the Norwich nightclub that night said Tyus and another man came into Bella Notte after a friend had called to tell him about Thomas' shooting. The witness, who like others is not identified by name in the affidavit but is referred to as a "Cooperating Witness," or CW, said Tyus wanted to have his picture taken inside the club and was "putting himself out there" in an effort to establish an alibi.

Based on a description of a car that witnesses to the homicide had given to police, Sgt. George Potts checked with local rental agencies to see if Tyus, Armadore or any of their associates had rented a car. He learned that a girlfriend of Tyus' had rented a silver Chevy Impala. Police seized the car when it was returned to Enterprise Rent-A-Car five days after the homicide.

Detectives found blood smears in the car, including on the front passenger door, and submitted samples for DNA testing. The lab determined that some of the samples contained a mixture of DNA and that Armadore, Tyus and Thomas could not be eliminated as sources of the DNA.

One of the witnesses police revisited as the investigation continued was a former girlfriend of Armadore's. She said Armadore came home at 4 a.m. on the night of the homicide and they fought about him being out with other females. She said Armadore broke down and cried and admitted he "shot a guy in front of a bar in New London." She said Armadore told her later that he threw the gun over a bridge. She also said that "P-Nut" has always been "an enforcer" for "Cali."

Police also used cellphone records to track the men's movements on the night of the homicide, according to the affidavit. The records showed a progression of their cellphones from New London County to Dorchester, Mass., and back to New London County. Their phones activated cell towers in New London within minutes of the first 911 call reporting the shooting, according to the affidavit. The phones then show a progression to Norwich, where they remained until closing time at Bella Notte, and back to New London.

Few details have been released about the grand jury investigation that led to the arrests of Tyus and Armadore. Senior Assistant State's Attorney Paul J. Narducci and Judge Arthur C. Hadden signed the arrest warrant affidavit that had been prepared by Detective Curcuro and signed by police Sgt. Kristy Christina.

Defendants in murder cases are entitled to a hearing at which the state presents evidence to convince a judge there is enough proof to continue the prosecution.

Tyus, represented by attorney Christopher Duby, has waived his right to a probable cause hearing in the case and pleaded not guilty.

Armadore, represented by attorney John E. Franckling, is due back in court on Feb. 14. On that day, he is expected to notify Judge Susan B. Handy whether he wants a probable cause hearing.

k.florin@theday.com

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