Crime

Wife, mother of slain Marine describe night of attack outside Lexington bar

'Jonathan, I love you!' Listen to wife of slain Marine testify about attack outside bar

Megan Price, wife of slain Marine Jonathan Price, testifies in court Thursday and reacts to a recording of her 911 call after the attack that resulted in the death of her husband.
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Megan Price, wife of slain Marine Jonathan Price, testifies in court Thursday and reacts to a recording of her 911 call after the attack that resulted in the death of her husband.

Marine Cpl. Jonathan Price wanted to be an organ donor before he and his wife were shot outside a Lexington bar. But his organs couldn't be used because he bled out, his mother testified Thursday in the trial of two men accused of murder and robbery.

Debbie Price, Jonathan's mother, and his wife, Megan, helped jurors get to know the man they lost and described the events that led to his death in a 2014 robbery and shooting outside Austin City Saloon.

One man took her purse, Megan Price testified, and Jonathan got in a "hitting and punching fight" with the older of two assailants. Jonathan was shot in the back. Megan Price was shot in the left leg.

The jurors will determine if Quincinio Canada and Dawan Mulazim killed Jonathan and wounded Megan so severely she was in a wheelchair for seven weeks. Canada and Mulazim could face the death penalty.

Their attorneys continued Thursday with their defense strategy: Lexington police rushed to judgment during a questionable investigation that focused on Canada and Mulazim to the exclusion of others. One attorney said Wednesday that DNA evidence exonerates the men.

The June 21, 2014, shooting at Austin City Saloon happened a little more than 10 months after the Prices were married, Megan Price said. The couple had been celebrating her birthday on the night of the shooting.

Megan Price recalled that a man with a gun, dreadlocks and wearing a white T-shirt approached the couple as they were outside the bar off New Circle Road. Another, older man with shorter hair accompanied the man with dreadlocks, she said.

She testified that a revolver was pointed at Jonathan's head. Megan Price said she began to hand over her purse to the man in the white T-shirt and he took it from her. She heard a gunshot.

At the same time, Jonathan got into a "hitting and punching" fight with the older man. After Jonathan was shot, the man in the white T-shirt took Jonathan's wallet.

Megan Price said she tried to go to her husband but couldn't because she had been shot in the leg. She learned that he had died after an ambulance took her to the hospital.

She declined to look at a photo lineup, she said, because "I did not want to be responsible for making the wrong choice."

The gunshot caused a "starburst fracture" of her left femur, and she was in a wheelchair for seven weeks after the shooting. She has hip and back pain four years after the shooting, and she still has a metal plate in her leg. The plate could be removed but that would mean being confined to a wheelchair again.

Before Megan testified, Jonathan's mother, Debbie Price of Versailles, took the witness stand.

Recruiters initially told Jonathan that he couldn't be a Marine because meniscus tears on both knees would prevent him from passing physical tests, Debbie Price said. Nevertheless, after knee surgeries he reapplied, was accepted and went to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. between December 2010 and March 2011. He graduated second in his boot camp class.

He returned to Lexington and worked for a landscaping company and later for Link-Belt, a Lexington crane manufacturer. He was in the Marine Reserves, in which he had drills one weekend per month and several weeks of training each year.

"He went the Reserves route because of his knee injuries. They thought that would be a better way for him to be in the Marines," Debbie Price said. "He really wanted to be deployed because that is what he had trained for but his unit was never deployed" because it was on a break after being continuously deployed after the Sept. 11. 2001 terrorist attacks.

Debbie Price said her son mailed himself a letter from boot camp and had asked her to keep it until he was ready to read it again. At the time of his death, he had never opened the envelope to read it, she said. She read a portion of the letter in court:

"Mentally I am ready though my knees begin to worry me. I will not quit until I am finished and it really doesn't end there. I will be a United States Marine with many new responsibilities. Always remember the importance of freedom and the liberties often taken advantage of, for these are what we fight for. We have been trained to fight and defend this great country. But ultimately we have been trained to die for it."

Jonathan had told his mother that he planned to turn in early on Megan's birthday because he had a canoe trip planned for the next day. Debbie Price said her son concluded a text to her with "143," a secret code between mother and son that meant "I love you."

Debbie Price said a doctor told her that first responders and others tried to revive Jonathan at the shooting scene, in the ambulance and at the hospital but they were unsuccessful.

"I waited for him to say that they did finally revive him, but then he said, "And we couldn't.'"

Details from Megan and Debbie Price follow in courtroom updates on their testimony.

Earlier story from morning testimony:

The Lexington police investigation into a 2014 motel robbery and subsequent fatal shooting of the Prices was questioned by the defense Thursday. The defense questioned why certain things were done and why others were not done.

A handgun stolen in a June 15, 2014 Quality Inn robbery was used six days later in the shooting death of Jonathan Price and wounding of his wife, Megan.

Detective Timothy Upchurch said a shell casing provided by robbery victim Shane Hansford matched a shell casing found at the Austin City Saloon scene. Upchurch was assigned to investigate the motel robbery but later came to believe that robbery suspects Canada and Mulazim were involved in the Price shootings as well.

In July 2014, Upchurch met with robbery victims Hansford, Jessica Rutherford (now Hansford) and Mitchell Smith near Burnside in Pulaski County.

Upchurch separately showed two series of photos to Shane Hansford and Smith. One was a “six pack” of six individuals, and the other was a “sequential lineup” of one photo after another.

Shane Hansford picked Mulazim from a “six pack,” while Smith picked Canada and another man from a sequential lineup. The other man could not have been involved in the robbery because he was in jail at the time.

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Quincinio Canada, one of two men on trial in the murder of U.S. Marine Cpl. Jonathan Price, spoke Wednesday with Karen Alexander, a mitigation specialist for his defense team. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Neither Canada nor Mulazim’s face had been on the news at the time the lineups were shown, Upchurch said.

Under cross-examination by Mulazim attorney Kim Green, Upchurch said he does not typically record photo lineups because he does not want to make crime victims uncomfortable. Another detective was present when the lineups were shown, Upchurch said.

Canada’s facial tattoo was removed from his photo in the lineup so he would not stand out from the other photos, Upchurch said.

If other individuals with facial tattoos could have been found, they would have been included in the lineup, Upchurch said. To have put in Canada’s photo with a facial tattoo would have been “suggestive,” Upchurch said.

Jessica Hansford testifies Wednesday during the trial for the death of U.S. Marine Jonathan Price, recounting being robbed at gunpoint at the Newtown Court Quality Inn by the same men who supposedly shot, killed Jonathan.

The defense noted Wednesday that Smith said of black people in a social media post, “If they didn’t all look alike they would be dead.”

If a witness said all black people look alike, Upchurch agreed with Green that the lineup would be “unreliable”

Smith had said during Wednesday cross-examination that he doesn’t believe all black people look alike, and that he had written that in anger.

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Mitchell Smith testified Wednesday during the trial in Lexington for two men accused of murdering Marine Cpl. Jonathan Price. Marcus Dorsey mdorsey@herald-leader.com

Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.

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