HOLLIDAYSBURG - If a picture is worth a thousand words, the video footage from inside Choices Nightclub speaks volumes about the Halloween night shooting that left 22-year-old Willie Solomon dead and a New York man bound for trial on homicide charges.
The man police said pulled the trigger, 20-year-old Hugo "Juice" Baez of Manhattan, N.Y., appeared in court Friday at the Blair County Courthouse under heavy security for his preliminary hearing on homicide and related charges.
While Baez's defense attorney, Thomas Dickey, tried to keep the surveillance footage out of the proceeding, arguing that he had not had a chance to view the multiple-camera video and that it wasn't even permissible to show it, Magisterial District Judge Jeffrey Auker disagreed and allowed prosecutors to show the video while questioning Solomon's brother, Jacob "JR" Dormevil as to what was depicted.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Auker said the video, as well as testimony from witnesses and police, along with documentation of the 911 calls, gave prosecutors enough evidence to send the case to Blair County Court, minus a simple assault charge Auker said lacked evidence. The footage is crystal-clear, a close-up view of the club's entrance hallway in the moments at about 11:30 p.m. Oct. 31 when Dormevil said he stepped outside to fight Baez, a man then only known as "Juice" in the club's circles.
Moments later, the footage shows the man identified in court as Baez fire a round out the open door at Dormevil before he turned toward Solomon, who had followed both men toward the club's exit.
The video - shown at half-speed so Dormevil could describe what was happening - moved members of Solomon's family who were in the packed courtroom to tears.
The camera in the hallway captured the flash of the handgun's muzzle as Baez turned toward Solomon, his face showing scant emotion as he continued to point the gun downward, firing at Solomon, who was mere inches away.
After Solomon slumped to the floor, out of view, Baez turned and walked back into the main part of the club as Dormevil peeked inside the door.
Tiffany Ellis, who was at the club that night with Solomon, who she referred to as "Watts," and Dormevil, testified she was across the barroom and headed for the door when she saw the first muzzle-flash and heard a gunshot. Ellis said there were then three more shots, a pause and another. She said she thought she saw the flashes from the gun, but because she was pushed into an alcove by another patron, she wasn't sure if it was just the reflection of other lights in the club.
Ellis helped provide some background to what led up to the altercation, describing for Auker previous run-ins between Baez and his friends and Dormevil, Solomon and another man known as Castro.
Ellis said when she drove Solomon and Dormevil to a convenience store just before the shooting, the subject of the longstanding problems with Baez and his friends came up. Ellis said Solomon told her he "wasn't feeling the vibe" in the club that night and suggested when they returned, they have one more drink and go to another bar.
"I didn't know there was going to be an altercation," Ellis said. "I just knew the two parties didn't get along."
Ellis and Dormevil told the court during their respective testimonies that a fight between the groups of men had broken out a week before the shooting inside the club and just the prior weekend, the two factions met with the club's manager, Jeffrey Keller, and agreed to take any future problems outside.
That was the case Halloween night when Solomon was shot, Dormevil told the court. Dormevil testified he was walking to the restroom when Baez, sitting nearby at a table, said, "What's up?"
"I said, 'What's up,' and he said, 'Do you want to take this outside?'" Dormevil said. He is in Blair County Prison on charges he assaulted police and resisted arrest at UPMC Altoona after he learned of his brother's death.
"Yeah," was Dormevil's response to Baez, he told the court.
Baez said nothing at his hearing, and Dickey called no witnesses but meticulously tried picking apart the testimony, frequently sparring with Deputy District Attorney Jackie Bernard and Assistant District Attorney Pete Weeks over whether or not witnesses should be allowed to answer the prosecution's questions.
"Any talk you went there to throw down that night?" Dickey asked Dormevil at one point as he tried to hammer home the idea that it was Solomon and Dormevil who had planned to jump Baez that night.
Dormevil denied belonging to a gang and said Solomon wasn't either, although he did say his brother was street smart. Dickey also asked questions about a relationship Baez had with the mother of Solomon's child while she and Solomon were estranged, but Dormevil told the court the altercation had nothing to do with that and the couple were back together at the time of the shooting.
Dormevil denied having a gun at the club or in the parking lot, and footage of Dormevil pulling up his shirt showed he was unarmed when he exited the club. Only Baez and his friend and sometimes Choices bouncer Brandon Midder, 24, could be seen on the video holding handguns. Midder is due in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing on an illegal gun charge.
Testimony by Ellis was also used by Dickey to build on his theory that Solomon and Dormevil went to the club with the intention of confronting Baez.
Ellis told the court that just before Dormevil exchanged words with Baez and headed for the door, Solomon tried talking to his brother.
"[Solomon] said, 'No, not tonight. They're strapped,'" Ellis said, adding that Dormevil then brushed past his brother, uttered, "I ain't no b--h" and started across the bar toward Baez.
When he saw the video footage for the first time in the Blair County District Attorney's Office, Dormevil admitted he wasn't prepared for what happened next.
"I said, I didn't expect for things to play out as it did," Dormevil testified.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-4758.