Jury selection starts in murder trial five years after woman’s disappearance

Jury selection starts in murder trial five years after woman’s disappearance

Jury selection started for a Gary man on Monday over five years after authorities allege he shot and killed a woman inside a borrowed car.

Drew Carter III, 46, is charged with murder, kidnapping while armed with a deadly weapon, criminal confinement while armed with a deadly weapon and criminal confinement with bodily injury. He has pleaded not guilty.

Police believe Jessica Flores, 36, of South Chicago Heights, Illinois, died sometime on Feb. 24 or 25, 2019.

A car she borrowed was later discovered with a pool of blood in the backseat. Flores’s body was not found for more than a year until skeletal remains were discovered in April 2020 in Gary’s Brunswick Park.

The case has been subject to various court delays. Last week, lawyers discussed potentially pushing the trial back again, if a deposition wasn’t completed in time.

Carter was originally charged in March 2019, but the case was dismissed without prejudice in September 2019 because the state was awaiting lab results that they were not sure would be available in time for the Sept. 23, 2019, jury trial. He was recharged in October 2022.

On Feb. 26, 2019, Lake County Sheriff’s Department officers started to investigate the disappearance of two women from South Chicago Heights, according to the probable cause affidavit. One woman was found alive but Jessica Flores was reported missing on Feb. 24 when she was driving a white 2010 Nissan Altima, court records state. The Altima was found in Chicago, where it had been set on fire and a large amount of blood was found in the rear seat.

Flores’ family had received information that she was shot and killed in Gary before her body was dumped somewhere near Fifth Avenue, the affidavit states.

On March 6, detectives traveled to a Chicago tow yard to take samples of blood in the Altima, court records state. The next day, a search started for Flores, including a Lake County Sheriff’s Department drone, but she was not located.

On March 8, police spoke to Flores’ friend about the night Flores disappeared, the affidavit states, and she told police that she was hanging out with a friend in Gary for much of the day on Feb. 24 and leading into Feb. 25.

The pair went to the Gary home of someone named “Stacks” and encountered a man named “Tiny” who drove them to the liquor store. When they returned, “Tiny” became angry, so Flores and her friend left, court records state.

“Tiny” followed them out and convinced Flores to let him inside the vehicle and promised to get them cocaine, the affidavit states, and he took them to a house near 10th Avenue and Clark Road.

He drove them back to “Stacks” residence and when no one answered the door, “Tiny” made the pair get into the back seat, court records state. Flores and “Tiny” started arguing again and he stopped the car multiple times to turn around, records state.

The last time he stopped the car, he asked Flores if he could have sex with her friend and Flores said “no,” records state, so “Tiny” turned around and shot Flores once, which caused her to immediately slump to her right and start bleeding.

The second woman got out of the vehicle and her ears were ringing and she tried to run away but was tackled by “Tiny,” records state, and he drove her back to his aunt’s residence and Flores’ body remained inside the vehicle. Eventually “Tiny” fell asleep and she escaped.

She told police that she was afraid for her life, the affidavit states. The woman identified Carter as “Tiny” from a photo lineup and detectives drove her to the 900 block of Morton Street in Gary, where she pointed to a particular residence as the one she escaped from and the last place she saw Flores’ body.

On April 9, 2020, Gary Police were dispatched to the 700 block of Clark Road when a Gary Parks Department employee found a human skull in the woods of Brunswick Park. The top portion of the skull and lower jaw were collected, and the next day, another bone, which appeared to be a vertebra, was found in the same area, court records state.

An examination of the skull by a forensic pathologist from the Lake County Coroner’s Office revealed the skull had sustained a gunshot wound to the left frontal bone of the head, which was the cause of death, according to the affidavit, and a forensic dental exam revealed the jaw bones belonged to Jessica Flores. Flores’ DNA matched a sample taken from the bones.

Flores is survived by six children, according to her obituary.

The trial is before Judge Natalie Bokota, with Deputy Prosecutors Infinity Westberg and Eric Randall assigned and attorney Mark Gruenhagen representing Carter.

mcolias@post-trib.com