Tyler Oliverbrooks Acker said he didn’t have much time to react the afternoon he and his friend were shot in St. Petersburg’s Historic Old Northeast neighborhood.
They were driving in the neighborhood of large homes and narrow streets on March 27, 2019, when an encounter with another driver turned violent.
“As soon as I looked up, I saw a gun,” Acker, now 34, said from a witness stand in a Pinellas courtroom on Tuesday.
It was the first day of testimony in the trial of William Shutt, also 34, who prosecutors say shot at Acker and his friend, Quentin Hicks, 42, during a road rage incident.
Hicks was killed. Acker was hit in the leg.
Shutt is charged with second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
Shutt’s defense lawyer, Roger Futerman, told jurors during opening statements Tuesday that his client acted in self-defense.
Futerman said Hicks yelled “I’m going to f - - king kill you” at Shutt, and that Acker yelled, too. Further, Futerman said, Shutt thought he saw Hicks reach down, as if he were grabbing a gun, before Shutt fired.
During testimony Tuesday, Acker denied that he and Hicks yelled at Shutt and said Hicks’ hands remained visible throughout the episode.
Futerman said Hicks had been under the influence of ecstasy, a drug that can cause irrational behavior. However, Acker said, Hicks was not acting irrationally and that he hadn’t seen his friend consume any drugs.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Traverso noted in opening statements that Shutt did not call 911 after the incident to tell police that he had shot someone in self-defense. Nor did he tell his girlfriend what had happened. On his phone, however, he searched for information about countries that didn’t allow extradition back to the United States, she said.
The shooting occurred as Acker and Hicks were on their way to visit Acker’s father, a day laborer who was working on a home in the Old Northeast neighborhood. Acker was visiting from California and had spent a night out on the town with Hicks the night before.
Hicks was driving with Acker in the passenger seat when he entered the Old Northeast. Believing they had the right-of-way, they drove through an intersection before they were cut off by Shutt. They traveled down the road and turned. The vehicle came back, and Shutt taunted them, Traverso said.
Hicks and Acker then pulled up next to Shutt at the intersection of Bay Street NE and 17th Avenue NE. It was there, prosecutors said, that Shutt pulled out a gun and fired at their car.
Hicks and Shutt drove off in opposite directions, and Hicks crashed into a tree at First Street N near 20th Avenue NE as he died.
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Shutt was arrested a week after the shooting. He has been held without bail at the Pinellas County jail since that day.
Police said that prior to the shooting, Shutt had stockpiled expensive weapons and saved videos and articles on his phone about mass shootings and murder. During Shutt’s bail hearing, a St. Petersburg police detective said she also had found connections between Shutt and alt-right groups. The detective was not allowed to further explain those connections after the defense objected and the judge upheld the objection.
According to a search warrant that police filed in the case, Shutt also confessed to shooting into an antique store while drunk when he was living in Delaware.
Testimony continues Wednesday.