SANFORD, Fla. – One of the survivors of the Florida Warlocks motorcycle gang shootout in Winter Springs, Fla., told jurors Tuesday that he watched as members of a rival gang fatally shot two of his friends immediately after they pulled into the VFW parking lot in Winter Springs two years ago.
Ronnie Mitchell, 41, of Osceola County, Fla., said he went to the VFW that day because a biker friend, Peter Schlette, asked him to and because he liked the cause they'd be raising funds for: wounded warriors.
But while the engines of their bikes were still running, Mitchell said, he watched as a member of a rival biker gang, Paul Wayne Smith, raised his gun and shot Peter Schlette in the head.
"Shot him in the face," said Mitchell.
Schlette then fell to the ground, he said.
"It's like his body collapsed in on itself," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he ran for cover behind a parked vehicle and moments later watched as another member of the rival gang, Victor Amaro, shot another friend, David Jakiela, an Orlando architect who had tried to take cover behind his motorcycle.
"I saw Victor Amaro shooting in his direction," Mitchell said. "I saw Mr. Jakiela get shot in the head. … He slumped over."
Jakiela would die the next day in the hospital.
Mitchell also described seeing a third body, that of ally Harold Liddle, nearby.
"I believed him to bed dead, lifeless. He was sprawled out, arms out," Mitchell said.
Mitchell was the first eyewitness to testify at the trial of David Maloney, charged with three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for the shootout Sept. 30, 2012, at the VFW in Winter Springs.
One of the people Maloney is charged with attempting to kill is Mitchell.
Earlier, two undercover police officers testified that they had secretly been photographing the scene but drove away, putting them out of position when the shooting started.
Winter Springs Officer Matt Scovel testified today that he watched and photographed the bikers coming and going from the Winter Springs VFW post parking lot for almost two hours, but he pulled away because he thought a "formation" of bikers was on the move.
It turned out there were only three, and he followed them a short distance then turned around. That's when he heard the first police dispatch about the shootout, Scovel said.
Scovel was the second witness to testify at Maloney's trial.
Attorneys this morning gave their opening statements.
Assistant State Attorney Lisa Haba told jurors that the men who wound up dead that day were victims – not the perpetrators of the violence.
The dead were members of the Florida Warlocks, a biker gang, and had pulled into the parking lot to take part in a ride to raise money for homeless military veterans, she said.
"As the Florida Warlocks pulled in, they were ambushed by gunfire," Haba said.
One of them was carrying $800, money raised to donate to military vets, she said.
But defense attorney Michael LaFay said Maloney was the victim.
Maloney, 54, of Longwood, had led a local chapter of the Florida Warlocks until 2010 when he was kicked out, LaFay said.
Maloney then started a small splinter group that he gave a similar name – the Philly Warlocks. Since then, according to LaFay, Maloney has been harassed, threatened and shot at by the members of his old club.
Also since then, LaFay said, Maloney has been marked for assassination.
"There was a green light on him. … That means he's a marked man, marked for death," LaFay said.
On the day of the shootout, LaFay said, the three men who wound up dead were part of a five-man squad that had come to beat or kill Maloney and other members of his splinter group.
Months earlier Maloney's house had been shot up by a suspected Warlock, and, in a separate incident, Maloney shot a biker at a bar in self-defense, an act for which he was not prosecuted.
It's not clear whether jurors will hear evidence about those things, but LaFay says they show the state of Maloney's mind the day of the VFW homicides: He felt threatened and acted in self-defense.
Also not clear is whether Maloney will ask for "stand your ground" immunity, a much-debated Florida law that clears people who use deadly force if, when they acted, they had a well-founded fear of imminent death or great bodily injury.
Either way, he claims that what he did was lawful because he acted in self-defense.
Scovel and his boss, Winter Springs police Sgt. Bradlea Heath, were both watching the VFW that morning.
Their primary objective, they testified, was to find out where the fund-raising ride ended.
They left at the same time, something Heath described as the result of "a miscommunication," so as not to blow their cover, they told jurors.
Both returned to the scene minutes after the shooting, they said.
If convicted, Maloney faces a maximum sentence of five life prison terms, one each for three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Killed in the shootout were Florida Warlocks Schlette, from Denham Springs, La.; Jakiela, 52; and Liddle, 46, of Tavares.
Maloney's co-defendants — all Philly Warlocks — are Smith, 49, of Effingham, S.C.; Robert Eckert, 39, of Longwood; and Amaro, 43, of Winter Springs.
LaFay said although Maloney fired one or two shots, he hit no one. Smith killed Schlette, and Amaro killed Jakeila and Liddle, LaFay said.
Those two codefendants and Eckert are to stand trial individually in the next few weeks.
Maloney's trial is expected to last into next week.
On Saturday, a biker subpoenaed to testify on behalf of Maloney was shot in the arm in Brevard County as he drove south on Interstate 95. A Florida Warlocks member, John Charles Haskell, has been arrested and charged with attempted murder.
LaFay today asked "Big" John Boudreau, former president of the Florida Warlocks, if he knew Haskell.
Yes, said Boudreau.
Did you direct Haskell to shoot one of Maloney's witnesses, LaFay asked.
"Is that of relevance to this trial," Boudreau responded.
LaFay asked again, and the second time Boudreau said, "No, I did not."