CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - One of two bullets lodged in her head made it difficult for Kimberly Cherry to speak.
When asked by a 911 operator in August 2016 to identify the person who had shot her, Cherry's halting voice seemed to teeter on the edge of consciousness. But her answer was clear.
"His name is Tim," she said.
Sitting between his two attorneys, Tim Crumitie showed no emotion Monday morning as the voice of his former girlfriend – and an expected witness against him – wafted through the courtroom, opening the former minister's first-degree murder trial in a haunting way.
The 52-year-old convicted felon is accused of the predawn ambush of Cherry and her boyfriend Michael Gretsinger in University City. Mecklenburg Assistant District Attorney Clayton Jones told the jury that after springing from behind the front door of the couple's apartment, Crumitie fired two shots, execution style, into Gretsinger's head. The Charlotte man died about 10 days later.
Crumitie then bound the arms of Cherry, put her in the passenger seat of her own car, and eventually drove her to his Rowan County home, Jones said, "figuring out what he wanted to do."
Later that morning, Crumitie doubled back, Jones said, driving Cherry's car to a construction site near her apartment. There, according to Jones, Crumitie shot her once in the back of the head. After Cherry fell to the ground, Jones said, Crumitie shot her again in the left temple.
Miraculously, Cherry was still alive when Crumitie put her in the trunk of the car and started driving again. Eventually the car stopped. At that point, Cherry popped the trunk and escaped, Jones said. A neighbor at the Ardmore Kings Grant apartments called 911.
Eventually, Cherry got on line. "Please send someone to help me," she said.
If convicted of the murder charge, Crumitie faces a mandatory life in prison without parole. He is also charged with assault, kidnapping and attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Cherry.
Jones, however, left the jury to mull six words that the prosecutor says sum up the case against Crumitie: "A nightmare when the relationship fades."
In his opening statement to the jury, defense attorney Mike Kabakoff said Jones' attempt to brand the case against Crumitie was inaccurate, simplistic and not supported by the facts.
He accused Cherry of making "intentional mistruths ... to purposely deceive."
"On the basis of Kim Cherry's testimony alone, you'll be wondering what the heck is going on here," he said.
Kabakoff also said the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department detectives "abandoned any investigation" and other possible leads because they decided almost from the start that Crumitie was the killer.
"At the end of this case, Mr. Jones will ask you to find Mr. Crumitie guilty of first-degree murder and some other charges," Kabakoff said. "But that extraordinary request is not backed by the extraordinary evidence required."
At that point, Kabakoff said he will ask the jury instead to find Crumitie not guilty.
How much they will hear about Crumitie's past before making that decision remains unclear.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Hugh Lewis cleared the way for prosecutors to mention that Crumitie served eight years in prison back in the 1990s for armed robbery and other crimes.
Crumitie also has been physically present or criminally linked to three mysterious shooting deaths over less than a decade – including those of his wife and a former business partner.
In 2005, while Crumitie was a Kannapolis pastor, he was charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of Danny Johnson, who operated a flooring company next door to the church. Crumitie spent five years in jail before authorities dropped the charges, saying they lacked the evidence to take the case to trial.
Eight years later, Crumitie was the lone surviving witness to a double homicide inside the garage of his Concord home.
He told police that during an attempted robbery, James Blanks fatally shot Crumitie's wife, Sharon, then shot Crumitie in the hand before Crumitie wrested the gun away and shot and killed Blanks in self defense. No charges were filed.
At the time of the 2016 shooting, Gretsinger's family questioned why someone with Crumitie's background was not in jail.
On Monday, Crumitie entered the courtroom wearing a dark beige suit. His side of the courtroom was empty.
Across the aisle, about 15 relatives and friends of Cherry filled most of two rows behind Jones and co-prosecutor Desmond McCallum. Several left the courtroom moments before hospital photographs revealing the head wounds of Cherry and Gretsinger appeared on the courtroom screen.
Crumitie did not react. On the other side of the courtroom, Nakisha Meaders, one of Cherry's daughters, put her face in her hands and sobbed.