Juvenile suspects in Teel capital murder case certified as adults

Juvenile suspects in Teel capital murder case certified as adults

It has been six months since 19-year-old pregnant mother Kera Teel was fatally shot at an apartment complex in Beaumont. After what police have referred to as a “very complex” investigation that resulted in the catch and release of two suspects initially believed involved in the fatal attack, police have arrested and charged two juveniles with capital murder for Teel’s death and attempted capital murder for a later Yorktown shooting.

Corey Spencer and Johnny Phifer, both 15 years old, have been certified as adults in Jefferson County courts and, as of Dec. 11, are currently incarcerated in the county jail on charges related to two shooting incidents that occurred earlier this year.

Dustin Bernard, 22, is also charged with attempted capital murder in the Yorktown shooting and is suspected of being the getaway driver in the Teel shooting.

The long, winding trail leading to the capital murder charges against the two teens began with Teel’s June 6 murder. In the early morning hours that fateful day, Beaumont police officers responded to the Sienna Apartment Homes at 6155 Sienna Trails and found Kera Teel suffering from gunshot wounds. She was seven months pregnant at the time, and she died in spite of efforts by emergency hospital staff. Kyndal Teel was born at the hospital following her mother’s death, but doctors could not save the infant.

With no suspects yet identified, the devastated Teel family made a soulful public plea for the killers to reveal themselves and face the consequences of their appalling actions. A short time later, Atayanna Douglas came forward to answer their call – or so she said.

The then-17-year-old Douglas, who police identified as a prostitute and mother with kids of her own, implicated herself in the incident and named suspected YOG gang member Jared Bias as the shooter. Bias soon surrendered to police and found himself in jail on bonds totaling more than $1 million for capital murder and other unrelated charges. He denied participating in the Teel shooting, and detectives continued to investigate.

As Bias and Douglas cooled their heels in Jefferson County jail cells, city violence continued and evidence in the Teel case led away from the pair as suspects. Multiple parties reportedly told officers that teens Spencer and Phifer were actually the ones responsible for the Teel shooting, and police eventually dropped the capital murder charges against Bias and the aggravated robbery charges against Douglas, releasing her on Nov. 28. When the capital murder charges against him were dropped, Bias remained in jail on unrelated charges but has apparently bonded out since then as his name no longer appears on the inmate roster.

“These guys are predators,” Officer Carol Riley, speaking of the true shooters, told The Examiner following Douglas’ release. “Atayanna did a disservice to Beaumont and this community by protecting these guys by lying and keeping predators on the street to commit more crimes.”

And so they did, say police.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on July 12, a month after Teel was killed, police responded to the 400 block of Yorktown in Beaumont in reference to a burglary in progress. A resident at the location told officers he was getting ready for work and had his garage door open when he was startled by one of two suspects in his patio area between the garage and residence. The first suspect reportedly pointed a handgun at the resident, who fled inside to get his own firearm. As he fled, the suspect fired several shots through the patio glass.

Detectives investigating the case discovered and collected video surveillance from an attempted auto burglary in the 1500 block of Marshall Wood Drive the same night. It showed three suspects, one obviously brandishing a firearm, running away as an alarm goes off on a pink or red pickup truck. They determined the two July 12 incidents were related.

Detectives caught up with Bernard a week later on July 19. He was taken into custody on auto burglary charges and a motion to revoke probation. Police reported then that they had also identified and arrested two juvenile suspects, Spencer and Phifer, but would not release their names at the time as the two had not yet been certified as adults. Police said more charges would be forthcoming against the three, a statement that proved true when the group was charged with attempted capital murder in the Yorktown incident.

Spencer’s bonds for capital murder and attempted capital murder are $125,000 and $100,000, respectively; Phifer’s are $2 million and $500,000 for the same charges.

Bernard remains behind bars on a $500,000 bond for attempted capital murder, a $100,000 bond for theft and a $1,000 bond for burglary of a vehicle. He is also charged with forgery for allegedly passing off “movie money” as real cash when he purchased an iPhone through the LetGo app. (A woman he said was his girlfriend, 20-year-old Shylaih Prescott, was also indicted in August for reportedly buying a four-wheeler with prop money in February through the OfferUp app, much like in Bernard’s alleged forgery. Police found Bernard riding the four-wheeler later the same month.)

Bernard has an extensive criminal record. According to a public database search, he was convicted of resisting arrest in 2015 stemming from a 2014 incident in Beaumont. In 2015, he was arrested for state jail felony level theft for stealing property worth $500 to $1,499. He pleaded guilty to that charge and got five years probation, which was later revoked. He was arrested in August 2016 for failure to identify with intent to give false information. The next month, he was arrested for harassment for which he was later convicted. The database also shows a 2017 conviction for theft of service, a Class A misdemeanor. The Jefferson County District Clerk’s database shows Bernard was also previously indicted on family violence charges in Jefferson County, but the case was dropped by the complainant.

While police believe they have their men in custody, the teen suspects’ fates remain in the balance. If they are ultimately convicted of capital murder, they face the maximum punishment under Texas law – from life in prison to death.