Chelios, on phone with manager who would be slain, heard screams
August 9, 2007
BY BEN SCHMITT
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios testified today that he was on the phone with a manager of his downtown Detroit restaurant shortly before someone stabbed her to death.
Chelios, owner of the popular Cheli’s Chili Bar, testified that Megan Soroka stopped the conversation after she heard yelling from the second floor of the multilevel restaurant on Adams Street.
Police alleged a disgruntled employee, Justin Blackshear, who had been fired for substandard work, stabbed Soroka, 49, and chef Mark Barnard, 52, to death around 9 a.m. Jan. 2.
A solemn Chelios dressed in a dark blue suit testified today during a jury trial against 17-year-old Blackshear in Wayne County Circuit Court. He is on trial on two counts of felony murder in the stabbings of Barnard and Soroka.
The well-known hockey player said he called Soroka at the restaurant while he was en route to hockey practice at Joe Louis Arena.
“She heard some yelling,” Chelios said. “She yelled out Mark’s name and she didn’t hear anything.”
Soroka then asked Chelios to hold on as she went to check on Mark, he said.
She later returned to the phone and said she had better get to work.
Some time after the phone conversation, prosecutors allege Blackshear stabbed Barnard multiple times with a kitchen knife, then attacked Soroka, killing both of them.
Chelios said he was a hockey practice when he received a call to go to the restaurant immediately.
He identified Blackshear in a photograph lifted from a video surveillance camera. The photograph shows a man in a gray, hooded sweatshirt with a black ski mask covering part of his face but leaving the eyes, nose and forehead exposed.
Chelios, who testified for 20 minutes, said he frequently ran into the suspect at the downtown restaurant before the killings.
They had brief conversations whenever they saw each other, Chelios said: “Just casual, when he walked by, ‘Hello.’ ”
Blackshear of Detroit has confessed to the killings, police said.
In his confession, which was read to the jury Tuesday, Blackshear said he went to the restaurant to try to get his job back. But, he said, after arguing with Barnard, he left the building, then reentered, stabbing the chef in the back several times on the second floor with a kitchen knife. He said he stabbed Soroka when she arrived on the scene.
Later today, Nicole Haley-Aquil, the mother of Blackshear’s girlfriend, testified that she found money with Cheli’s wrappers wrapped in a shirt in the vacant flat above her Detroit apartment . Haley-Aquil testified that Blackshear had been living with her family because he had gotten her daughter pregnant.
Blackshear called Haley-Aquil collect from the Wayne County Jail after his arrest and denied any wrongdoing.
“I don’t have the heart to kill nobody knowing I have a kid on the way,” Blackshear said on the recorded call that was played to the jury today.
But he contradicted himself in a June 28 letter from jail to his girlfriend, which Haley-Aquil read in court.
“The only reason I told them I did it is because they told me the state could take our baby,” he wrote in the letter.
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