They were just two sisters, one a preschool teacher and the other a college student, on their way to a late lunch Oct. 11, 2002.
Their shortcut through a pharmacy parking lot that day led them Tuesday to Maricopa County Superior Court in Mesa, where they were star witnesses for the state — and where defense lawyers tried to discredit their claims of seeing former Chandler police officer Daniel Lovelace chase Dawn Rae Nelson's fleeing car before shooting her to death.
The ultimate question of the trial is whether Lovelace, who is charged with second-degree murder and endangerment, was in danger when he shot the 35-year-old Ahwatukee Foothills mother, who was trying to escape arrest for passing a fake prescription at the Walgreens at Dobson and Warner roads.
Defense attorney Craig Mehrens attacked the testimony of Brandi Gonzalez and Jennifer Gonzalez-Mayterone by pointing out that while they could say in court where Lovelace generally was when he shot, they weren't so certain on the day of the shooting.
Mehrens was nine minutes into cross examination of Gonzalez, a 22-year-old Mesa Community College student, when he gently pointed out the inconsistency, causing her to cover her face with her hands and sob.
Judge James Keppel gave her a break to compose herself. When she returned to the stand, she explained the inconsistency by saying that she "just wanted to stop" the questions of the detective after the shooting because she was frustrated and stressed.
She told jurors she was conflicted by her aspirations to become a police officer and making statements against a police officer, and she also felt bad for Lovelace and Nelson.
Gonzalez-Mayterone, 24, said she didn't tell the detective everything she knew the night of the incident because she was nervous about being involved in a police shooting.
Both woman testified that they saw Lovelace standing on the driver's side of
Nelson's Chevrolet Camaro when the car moved forward and knocked over his motorcycle.
"He took off really fast after the Camaro," Gonzalez-Mayterone said.
They said they could see the right side of his body as he fired the shot.
Lovelace has claimed that he "backpedaled" to get away from the car, believing it would crush him if he didn't, but both women said they never saw him move backwards, only forward.
Prosecutors contend that Lovelace couldn't have been in danger because the fatal bullet entered Nelson from behind.
Mehrens set the stage for planned testimony of a memory expert who is expected to say that the memories of witnesses can be tainted by conversations they have after seeing an incident.
The sisters said they discussed the shooting with each other as they drove to a restaurant immediately after it happened and then discussed it with their mother at the restaurant.
In other testimony, an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer with 25 years of experience testified that officers are not trained to run after fleeing cars to stop them.
Sgt. Steve Harrison said officers are trained to get as much information on the fleeing car and occupants to pass along to other officers.
Harrison also said that Nelson's 14-month-old son, who was strapped into the backseat of the car, was put in danger because the mother was no longer in control of the car when she was shot, making it possible for the car to roll into traffic and be struck.
Lovelace dived into the rolling car after the shooting in an attempt to stop it. A fellow officer who drove up to the scene crashed into it to stop it, according to previous police testimony.