Walking toward the witness stand just feet from the huge, fashionably attired rap star with the staggeringly expensive diamond-encrusted watch, Terrence Speller seemed so plain and so tiny.
Speller wore a nondescript plaid shirt and navy pants yesterday to testify as the victim in the attempted-murder trial of hip-hop artist Beanie Sigel. Speller's diminutive appearance was highlighted even further when he asked to lower the height of the witness chair.It soon became clear that Speller had room to sink even further.
Under a particularly searing cross-examination by Sigel's defense attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., Speller's story of the night Sigel allegedly shot him became more and more confusing.
By the time Speller left the stand in Common Pleas Court, he had offered at least three versions of July 1, 2003, when he was shot near a go-go bar at 52nd and Larchwood streets in West Philadelphia.
The larger-than-life Sigel seemed to puff up even bigger at the defense table on the opening day of his trial.
Although the large courtroom was set up to handle a big crowd, attendance was light.
Speller, 27, spoke in a steady, relaxed voice as he described the night he says Sigel used a semi-automatic handgun to pump bullets into his abdomen and foot. He was shot, he said, after a young woman on the street mistakenly believed Speller had called her a “bitch.” She threatened to get “Beans” after him.
The real “bitch,” Speller explained, was a stripper who earlier refused to let Speller touch her during a lap dance inside the bar.
“I heard tires screech,” Speller testified. “I looked up and saw the defendant's truck again . . . The defendant got out and I heard him say, 'Who?' “
Then, Speller said, Sigel came toward him, pulled a gun and began firing.
“I, like, froze once he shot the first shot,” Speller said.
When police arrived, Speller told them that more than one man had shot him during a robbery attempt.
It wasn't until he was in the hospital recovering from surgery that Speller identified Sigel as his shooter. Even then, the details he gave cops differed from what he told jurors yesterday.
Under cross-examination, Perri, Sigel's attorney, highlighted those inconsistencies.
Speller admitted that the blunt he had smoked that night was substantial – about seven inches long. He also conceded that, in spite of what he had told prosecutor Deborah Robinson during direct examination, he got “a little bit” at the Pony Tail bar.
Then Perri made a dramatic point of another puzzling detail.
“Did you feel like you were going to die?” Perri asked of the moments Speller spent bleeding on the sidewalk, telling police what had happened.
“Yes,” Speller said.
“And your last dying breath was going to be, 'They tried to rob me,' not the identity of the killer? Is that what you expect this jury to believe?”
“Yes,” Speller answered.
Speller spent 11 days in the hospital following the shooting. He still suffers from nerve damage and a loss of feeling and movement, he said.
In her opening statements, Robinson said the shooting had been a clear attempt by Sigel to kill Speller. Speller lied, she said, because he was scared.
Perri, however, suggested that Speller only fingered Sigel – a well-known rap star with gold records, a clothing line and an upcoming movie sequel – because he believed there might be a “payday” in it for him. *