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Witnesses link murder suspect to other home invasions

Double-murder trial of Steven Kellam continues in Georgetown
September 14, 2017

Two witnesses in the trial of Steven Kellam described a pair of violent home invasions in December 2014 that prosecutors say were carried out on Kellam’s orders.

Azel Foster, 40, was the first to take the stand Sept. 12 in the Superior Court trial of the man prosecutors say gave the order to murder Cletis Nelson and William Hopkins during a January 2014 home invasion aimed at stealing drugs and drug money.

Foster described a home invasion and shootout that occurred at his home Dec. 14, 2014. 

That night, Foster testified, he had just put his daughter to bed and was watching television when he heard a noise outside his front door. Looking outside, he said, he saw people at the door. Foster said he went back to his bedroom and retrieved a pistol, telling his fiancée to grab his daughter and hide under the bed. The men outside kicked in the front door, he said, yelling they were state police.

Foster said the men were wearing black masks with hoods. He immediately retreated to his bedroom, but a shootout ensued; Foster said he was armed with a .38 revolver, although later testimony from Sgt. Keith Marvel, a Delaware State Police evidence collector, revealed the gun as a .32 Smith and Wesson long, which looks similar to a .38-caliber revolver and a .357-caliber revolver. 

Foster testified he was hit in the shoulder by one of the shots; blood found at the scene was later shown to be Foster’s.

Foster testified that more than a decade earlier, he had been in the drug game, but after a stint in prison, he got out of it. He said he ran a barbershop that generates a lot of cash, but he never keeps the cash at his home. Foster said he and Kellam had known each other years before the home invasion.

Prosecutors say the gunmen who invaded the Foster home included Richard Robinson, Rhamir Waples and an unidentified third man. Robinson and Waples are relatives of Kellam; Robinson has taken a guilty plea on second-degree murder charges in the deaths of Nelson and Hopkins, while Waples was found guilty of first-degree murder and first-degree robbery in the January 2014 double murder. 

Also testifying Sept. 12 was Tamika Turlington, a friend of Kellam, who said she was at Kellam’s house the night Foster’s home was invaded. Turlington said Kellam told her the robbery did not go as planned. She testified besides Kellam, other participants were Robinson, Waples and Jackson Vanvorst. Prosecutors say Robinson, Waples and two unnamed men invaded the Foster home; they also say Vanvorst procured a gun for the fourth man in the robbery. 

Turlington said she and Kellam were in a bedroom when Robinson came in, carrying a gun. When Robinson left the room, Turlington testified, Kellam told her that if he asked Robinson to shoot her, he would do it.

Kellam’s attorney, Patrick Collins, questioned Turlington’s recollection of events, suggesting that she may have told the others where Foster lived.

Connie Steward detailed a second home invasion that had taken place three days before the incident in Foster’s home.

Steward lived in Millsboro with Milton “Fat Dice” Loffland, who, Steward said, was dealing drugs at the time. Steward said she and Loffland had known of Kellam prior to the home invasion. 

The night of the incident, Steward was sleeping when Loffland told her someone was trying to get in. She said four men wearing all black with masks kicked in their door and asked them where the stuff was at. Steward said two of the men ransacked the house; another kicked her, hit her with a gun and also hit Loffland three times in the head. This man pointed a gun in her face and told her to shut up, Steward said. She said the group took a pair of sneakers and a DVD player that had been wrapped under the Christmas tree before fleeing. Steward said Loffland never kept money in the house and that one of the perpetrators was a light-skinned black man.

Prosecutors say Kellam also ordered this robbery, which was carried out by Robinson, Waples and two unidentified men, using guns provided by Kellam and Vanvorst. 

Getaway driver testifies

Testifying in the case Sept. 7 and 11 was Shamir Stratton, who admitted he drove the getaway car in January 2014 for the men who murdered Hopkins and Nelson.

Stratton, 27, of Pennsauken, N.J., is a cousin to Steven Kellam, 37, of Dover. Earlier court testimony indicated that Stratton’s call to Kellam the weekend of Jan. 10, 2014, set in motion a chain of events that led to the double murder inside a home on Harmons Hill Road in Georgetown.

Stratton said he called Kellam because he was bored and looking for something to do. Stratton testified Kellam said there was a party at the Millsboro VFW that weekend and there was a possibility to “do licks,” slang for commit a robbery. Stratton picked up his cousin, Damon Bethea, in Camden, N.J., and then Robinson and Waples, to whom he is also related, in Philadelphia. Stratton said he looked up to Kellam because Kellam had girls and money and treated Stratton well. Stratton said he was reluctant to testify against Kellam.

Stratton said two days before the murders, the group was involved in a fight at the Millsboro VFW, where Stratton was hit in the head with a bottle. The next day, Stratton said, Kellam’s friend John Snead and Hopkins had been involved in a fight, with Hopkins beating up Snead. That night, the group ended up a hotel in Long Neck where they met with Rachel Rentoul, Jackie Heverin and Carlton Gibbs.

Rentoul was Nelson’s girlfriend, but she was angry at him, accusing him of seeing other girls. Rentoul mentioned that Nelson had cash and drugs at his house and that Hopkins dealt drugs with him. Stratton said after Rentoul and Heverin showed them where Nelson’s house was, he regrouped with Kellam, Robinson, Bethea, Waples and Gibbs at a house on Mount Joy Road. He said Kellam passed out three guns; Stratton drove Robinson, Waples and Bethea to the house. Stratton said he and Waples argued over what to do with the boys in the house. They called Kellam to ask, Stratton said, and Kellam told them to kill Nelson and Hopkins.

After hearing gunshots, Stratton said he started to flee when Robinson and Waples came running out. Everybody eventually met back at the house of a relative of Kellam, where they divided the loot and went their separate ways. Two weeks after the shootings, a confidential informant in Camden County, N.J., provided investigators with information that Stratton knew about a double murder in Delaware. 

On cross-examination, Collins repeatedly undermined Stratton’s testimony; Stratton eventually admitted he had not been truthful with investigators in multiple police interviews. Stratton said he initially told police Kellam had gone in the house, not Bethea; when shown pictures of Bethea at the Wawa the night of the killings, Stratton said the man’s name was “Colton.” Collins also refuted Stratton’s account of the guns and what he did with them. Stratton said he threw away two of the guns, and Kellam had disposed of the third. But later, Robinson revealed he still had a gun. Under Collins’ questioning, Stratton also said said he lied about not having contact with Rachel Rentoul, who testified that she helped set up the robbery of Nelson and Hopkins, after the night of the murders.

Upon repeated questioning by Collins about conflicting details in his story, Stratton said, “I don’t know half the stuff I said.”

As Collins cross-examined Stratton, Kellam, a thickly built man with glasses and braids, looked pleased. Kellam has appeared upbeat and curious during the trial, occasionally joking with his prison guards, conversing with Collins and laughing at the occasional joke cracked by Judge T. Henley Graves to the jury of 11 women and five men, which includes alternates. 

During the testimony of Delaware State Police Detective Fred Chambers, prosecutors played a video interview of Kellam made three weeks after the killings. Police had gotten Kellam’s name from Stratton, and under questioning, Kellam denied he knew any of the others and said he knew nothing of people with guns. Kellam denied seeing Stratton’s red Charger that weekend and denied having cousins down from Philadelphia and New Jersey. 

On cross-examination, Collins questioned why Chambers had not investigated surveillance footage from the hotel in Long Neck in a timely manner, before it had been erased. He asked Chambers if, in his mind, these were particularly brutal murders.

“In my opinion, yes,” Chambers said.

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