Capital murder trial begins in killings of 2 drag queens shot in their Texas home
Fort Worth Star-Telegram September 13, 2023
(Tribune News Service) — After his girlfriend took their child and left, Fayaka Dunbar floated from job to job and lived in his car.
The Marine Corps veteran found a balm for his depression in sex he paid for. At the end of a night shift in December 2017 at a warehouse in far north Fort Worth, Dunbar scanned online prostitution advertisements. On Craigslist, he found one that offered a sex act, though in cruder terms, at a house in Fort Worth.
Though most of Dunbar’s previous paid sex encounters were with cisgender female escorts, this ad included an acronym to indicate the solicitor was transgender and intended to have sex with men. Dunbar and the person who posted the ad exchanged text messages to arrange the act.
When it was done, and under circumstances that are in radical dispute, Dunbar fired shots that struck the person who had performed the sex act and a roommate. One died on the living room floor. The other became quadriplegic when a round struck her spinal cord and lived in a nursing home until she died last year.
Jason Bradley, who died immediately, was a 35-year-old gay man who was a prominent drag performer known at shows as Bianca Starr. In high school in Texarkana, Arkansas, Bradley met the other person who was shot, London, a transgender woman who also performed as a drag queen.
A jury began on Tuesday to hear evidence in Dunbar’s trial on capital murder in the 371st District Court in Tarrant County at which Judge Ryan Hill is presiding.
Accounts of what was happening in the living room at the time of the shooting, whether a robbery motivated it and, if it did, who was being robbed and whether there was a physical fight are the central elements under exploration at the trial.
Dunbar’s attorneys have suggested the killings are justified by self defense because the defendant was involved in a fight with at least one of the people who were shot when they became unsatisfied with the $100 London received and wanted more money.
According to Mark Daniel, a defense attorney who represents Dunbar with Matthew Smid, Bradley and London were shot when they placed Dunbar in abject fear, attempted to extort money from him and used their large size to assert control.
In her opening statement, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Samantha Fant told the jury Dunbar shot the victims when, after the sex act, Dunbar wanted his money back. Fant is prosecuting the case with Assistant Criminal District Attorney Allenna Bangs.
Dunbar was indicted under the capital murder elements that multiple murders occurred in the same incident and that the killings occurred during a robbery attempt.
After the indictment was read aloud on Tuesday, Hill asked the 32-year-old defendant to state a plea.
“Not guilty, your honor,” Dunbar said as he stood at the defense table. “Not guilty.”
A key witness on the trial’s opening day was Norman Fields, a third roommate at the house in the 3500 block of Rogers Avenue who was the only person beyond the deceased and the defendant who was present.
Fields testified that he woke to hear hostile voices.
He said he found in the living room London and Bradley insisting that a person Fields did not know should leave.
Fields testified the person said he was not going to leave and soon was waving a gun as Bradley and London held up their hands.
The man pointed the gun at London, and she grabbed it, Fields said.
Fields testified that he turned to go to his bedroom to retrieve a vase, the only weapon at hand. He heard shots and returned to the living room and saw his roommates on the floor and that the shooter had left. He called 911, and a recording of the call was twice played for the jury.
“None of us wanted to die,” Fields testified.
The state did not ask Fields whether he saw in the courtroom the person who shot his roommates.
Capt. James Stockton, the first officer who arrived at the scene, also testified on Tuesday. Stockton described finding ejected cartridge casings in the living room and two victims wearing lingerie on the floor. One appeared to be dead. The other gasped breath and made eye contact with the police commander.
London was shot in her right shoulder. The bullet lodged in her spinal canal, and she suffered a complete spinal cord injury.
London died on July 2, 2022, at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. She was 36 when she was shot and 40 when she died.
Dunbar on Dec. 8, 2017, paid $200 for the sex act performed by London, then demanded his money back and opened fire, according to the police account described in an arrest warrant affidavit.
In March 2018, Tarrant County prosecutors filed an application to take a videotaped deposition of London. She died without being deposed.
Homicide detectives found Dunbar’s telephone number on London’s cellphone, according to the affidavit.
Identifying himself as “Chris,” Dunbar contacted London using the dating service Plenty of Fish, according to the affidavit.
Dunbar showed up at the Rogers Avenue house, driving a silver four-door vehicle. He entered the house and was escorted to a bedroom for the sex act, according to the affidavit.
After getting dressed, Dunbar walked to the living room, pulled out a handgun, pointed it at London and demanded the return of the money and London’s cellphone, the affidavit stated.
A struggle ensued, and Dunbar shot Bradley and London, according to the affidavit.
London later identified Dunbar as the suspect in a photograph lineup, according to the affidavit.
If the jury finds Dunbar guilty of capital murder, he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The state waived the death penalty as a possible sentence. It is not yet clear whether Hill will permit the jury to consider offenses beyond capital murder.
The trial resumed on Wednesday morning.
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