Homicide victim was to testify in murder trial next week

Updated:

Vanessa Thrasher was killed early Thursday morning inside O.T.'s Lounge and Soul Food Grill on Joseph E. Boone and New Jersey Avenue just after 2 a.m.
ATLANTA —

The Fulton County District Attorney tells Channel 2 Action News the woman gunned down inside in an Atlanta restaurant, was expected to testify in a murder trial next week.

Vanessa Thrasher was killed early Thursday morning inside O.T.'s Lounge and Soul Food Grill on Joseph E. Boone and New Jersey Avenue just after 2.

An officer on patrol heard gunshots and quickly responded to the scene, but the two suspects slipped past him, police spokesman Capt. Adam Lee said.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told Channel 2's Amy Napier Viteri she was an important witness for a murder trial set to begin on Monday.

"Yesterday we did our final preparation with her," Howard said. "She left our office sometime after four o'clock. This morning we were awakened with the terrible news she had been brutally murdered."

Thrasher was supposed to testify in the case against William Djuan Perkins and Lavanda Heard, who are accused of killing Jerome White during a fight at Thrasher's restaurant in 2011.

Heard recently took a plea deal in the case and Perkins is expected to go to trial next week.

Viteri asked Howard if Thrasher's shooting was related to being a witness in the murder case.

"Well we don't know yet," Howard said. "We're working very closely with the Atlanta Police Department and with the U.S. Marshal's office and we're trying to figure out whether there's any connection between the trial and the incident."

Howard said police were doing extra patrols in the area and even thought about putting Thrasher into protective custody to keep her safe. He said the men waited for police to leave the area before making their move.

"Apparently these men waited, they watched and this took place when the police were apparently heading back to the location," Howard said.

A friend of the victim told Channel 2 Action News Thrasher has been well known in the neighborhood for years.

"Her grandfather gave her this business and she kept it open. Many times she wanted to get out but people told her not to," Olivia Haugabook said.

Thrasher's sisters said she hoped to make a difference in the community by mentoring children.

"She wanted to come out and make a change in the community," Tina Thrasher said.

Friends and family gathered for a candle light vigil Thursday night to honor Vanessa Thrasher.

Meanwhile, Howard said Thrasher's death will not stop them from continuing with the trial and that intimidation like this will not keep them from getting those responsible for Thrasher's death.

"We want criminals to understand that they cannot shut our criminal justice system down simply by removing witnesses from the ability to come into court and testify," Howard said. "When people attempt to intimidate the criminal justice system we're not going to stand for it. We're going to go forward with the case on Monday."

A memorial fund has been set up to help pay for funeral expenses for Thrasher. If you would like to contribute you can make your donation at any Wells Fargo branch for the Vanessa Elaine Thrasher fund, account number: 8558885185.

Funeral arrangements are still being planned at this point.