Pulaski County Circuit Judge Karen Whatley set bail at $1 million Thursday for a Little Rock murder suspect after hearing the homicide was caught on video and seven eyewitnesses -- among them an 11-year-old boy -- can identify the defendant as the gunman, who is also wanted in Florida on child pornography charges.
Antwann Neko Wright is a flight risk with no ties to Arkansas who arrived here about a month before the October 2021 slaying of 21-year-old Anthony Jerome Nelson Jr., known as AJ, deputy prosecutor Scott Duncan told the judge, urging her to set high bail for the 23-year-old defendant. Authorities also have recordings of his jail phone calls in which Wright talks about returning to Florida.
"We're not going to see him back if he's bonded out," Duncan said.
The prosecutor said Florida authorities are waiting to extradite Wright to his native St. Petersburg where he's been wanted since 2021 on multiple counts of possession of child pornography with intent to promote, lewd or lascivious battery, felonious possession of a firearm, using a minor in the production of harmful materials.
Wright is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, terroristic threatening and two counts of committing a terroristic act over accusations he opened fire without provocation into a car at the Galleria convenience store at 5103 Asher Avenue, killing Nelson, a passenger. Wright is further accused of threatening witnesses to the shooting, 37-year-old Dewayne Lamon Givens, and the 11-year-old boy who was homeless.
Wright was arrested about eight hours after the killing by police who tracked him to the Magnuson hotel, 2401 W. 65th St., where investigators seized a partially loaded .40-caliber pistol from his room. He's been jailed ever since, initially without bail.
Court rules make Wright entitled to bail, and his attorney, Julia Jackson, asked the judge to set it at a "reasonable" amount. She suggested that Wright is considering arguing self-defense, telling the judge that Wright's 15-year-old girlfriend -- the sister of the 11-year-old boy -- described the car occupants as the aggressors who provoked a confrontation with Wright, with one of the two men in the car being the first to pull a weapon.
There was evidence of a shoot-out, with police finding three .40 caliber shell casings in the store parking lot along with eight 9mm shells and a 9mm magazine. Jackson said police have not found the 9mm weapon and that on the 911 call reporting the shooting, someone can be heard saying the victim "had something on him." The other man in the car, 22-year-old Demond Antonio Lewis of North Little Rock, disappeared in the wake of the gunfire, with police not able to find him until a couple of weeks after the shooting, Jackson told the judge.
The prosecutor said that Lewis did fire a gun, shooting back in self defense after Wright opened fire on the car Lewis was in with Nelson and 27-year-old Jasmine Chandler of Little Rock. The store's surveillance video shows Wright was the first to fire, he told the judge.
The deadly encounter began when the car pulled up to the gas pumps, with the surviving occupants, Chandler and Lewis, describing Wright -- a stranger to them -- as "mean mugging" or staring aggressively at them. There was some kind of exchange of heated words and then the shooting started, Duncan said. Nelson was hit four times, in the back, the buttocks, the left forearm and right hand, he said.
Witnessing the shooting was Givens, a homeless man who said he didn't know Wright but had just met him at the store. He said Wright was with the 11-year-old boy and 15-year-old girl, with Givens describing how he shoplifted some snacks for the boy because the child had complained of being hungry. The siblings had been living in a shelter. Givens told police he heard Wright talking about how he needed money and had a gun so he was looking for a chance to steal something or rob someone.
After the shooting, Wright and the children fled, with Wright threatening to kill the boy if he told anyone about what he'd seen, the prosecutor said.