'I don't even know why I'm here': How detectives narrowed in on New Year's Day murder suspect
Through tears, a woman stepped forward in Anchorage's jail courtroom Saturday to face the man police believe murdered her brother.
"We lost a brother, a son, a father, that was taken from us for a senseless reason, unknown, and that we don't feel there should be any bail given," the woman said, attempting to put her family's loss into words.
In Alaska, every individual has a constitutional right to bail, a concept the judge tried to explain to the woman, as 34-year-old murder suspect Quennel Avery cut her off from the other side of the glass.
"Sir, I'm going to need you to not interrupt, OK," the judge said, attempting to stop the inaudible interruption, before instructing the woman not to respond. "Ma'am, just don't engage."
Avery continued, appearing to mutter, "that's crazy, man."
The judge threatened to postpone his hearing until the following day if he didn't wait his turn.
"We're not saying that we know that it's him," the woman clarified.
But Anchorage police are far more confident in the man's guilt.
They arrested Avery on murder charges Friday after investigating the shooting death of 39-year-old Timothy Smith for more than a year.
What unfolded at the intersection of Fourth Avenue and D Street on News Year's Day 2018, halted a night of celebration. Shortly after ringing in the year ahead, Smith was shot multiple times, a crime that ended his life.
Initial witness testimony and surveillance video gathered from the crime scene told the story of a puzzling, snap-decision murder. Smith was likely shot by someone he had never met, for a reason that might never make sense.
Smith was headed from the Gaslight Lounge to the Avenue Bar, when he encountered a Chevy TrailBlazer stopped in the intersection. The investigation suggests the driver of the SUV had gotten out of the vehicle and was arguing with an unknown person at the back of the vehicle.
Smith is then seen walking through the intersection, and sliding across the hood of the TrailBlazer. He then walks toward the back of the vehicle where he encounters the driver and witness. The driver shoots Smith multiple times, then gets back in the TrailBlazer and drives away.
“The victim and his friends were out celebrating the new year,” APD communications director MJ Thim said. “They came to the intersection; the victim slid across the [hood] of the TrailBlazer, we believe just for fun, and came into confrontation with the suspect, who was in an altercation with some other people.”
Though the scene was crowded with several potential witnesses, police found it difficult to get enough information to track down the driver. They also received conflicting witness accounts about people inside the TrailBlazer, but were told by Smith's girlfriend that a woman wearing a sparkly top was sitting in the passenger seat.
"What we had was lots of information, but nothing to tie this together," Thim said. "We knew there was a vehicle, and that there was a driver and passengers, but nothing to tie that together."
Over the course of the 15-month investigation, Anchorage police released photos of the TrailBlazer, which depict possible damage to the front bumper, and pleaded with the public, asking witnesses who might have seen or learned something to come forward.
During the investigation, a detective received an anonymous tip that reported the shooter was a man named Avery Leonard, however APD was not able to find any information related to that name.
It was close to Avery's full name — Quennel Lanard Avery.
According to Avery's felony arrest warrant, a key witness contacted police on Feb. 22, 2019. A man walked into APD's headquarters, saying he wanted to talk about the 2018 New Year's Day homicide.
The man said he had been with a friend at the home of a drug dealer known as "Peanut." He said he knew the man drove a gold TrailBlazer with a damaged front bumper, and was able to show a detective the man's Facebook account, which listed his name as Quennel Avery.
"[The witness] told me that the day after the New Year's Eve shooting Avery's Trailblazer (sic) was all 'smashed up' in the front end. [The witness] said that Avery told them that he had 'crashed into a brick wall'. [The witness] also said that Avery was talking about someone who talked bad to his girl. [The witness] said that he heard Avery say this 'he thinks he can talk to my girl like that'. [The witness] said that Avery told him and [his friend] that he had 'shot this dude'.
The man told police Avery solicited help in repairing a window on his TrailBlazer, which he kept concealed under a tarp behind his apartment building.
Detectives found photos posted to Facebook on News Year's Eve and New Year's Day that show Avery and a woman wearing clothing that appeared to match the outfits worn by the driver and passenger in the surveillance footage.
They were able to contact the woman in the photos, who agreed to speak with them. She said she had previously dated Avery and the two were celebrating downtown the night of the shooting. She said they were drinking quad shots of straight liquor and she was "extremely intoxicated."
The woman confirmed the Facebook accounts detectives were looking at belonged to her and Avery, and confirmed the outfit she is wearing in the photo is the one she wore that night.
"[The woman] was shown a still photo taken from the video footage from the Alaska Museum which showed the gold colored SUV involved in the Homicide. At first she didn't recognize the SUV, but then added she remembered arguing and screaming and someone jumped on the hood. [The woman] said at the time she was in an argument with Avery too, but couldn't remember what it was about. [The woman] said Avery got out of the vehicle but she didn't see where he went. [The woman] said she didn't hear any gunshots, but the music was up loud.
[The woman said she couldn't remember anything else because she was really drunk that night. She said Avery has never talked to her about the shooting."
The document says Avery agreed to speak with police on Friday. He initially denied ever having driven the TrailBlazer, until he was shown a photo of a 2017 accident he had been involved in with the vehicle. He also denied knowing the owner of the SUV, even though he had provided the owner's name during that same crash.
Avery denied several other claims, including driving the TrailBlazer on the night of the homicide, storing it under a tarp and asking for help repairing it.
"Avery was confronted with the fact that others had implicated him in this shooting, he continued to deny any involvement in the shooting and said that he didn't know why others would implicate him."
When Avery was given the opportunity to speak at his arraignment on Saturday, he continued to maintain his innocence.
"I don't got nothing to say," he told the judge. "I don't even know why I'm here, just being honest."
Avery's bail is set at $175,000. The full amount must be paid in cash in order for him to be released before trial.
You can view raw video from the arraignment here:
KTVA's Dave Leval contributed information to this report.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarified a quote from an APD spokesperson.