A cross bearing the name of Chaviz Nguyen waits to be hammered into the lawn of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield in December 2023. The church put up a cross for every Springfield-area homicide in 2023. Nguyen died in a drive-by shooting in November. The alleged shooter, a teenager, is in jail awaiting a preliminary hearing. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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One of the three teens charged in the death of Chaviz Nguyen in a 2023 car-to-car shooting appeared in court with the hope the judge would find there isn’t enough evidence to link him to the killing.

That did not happen. The case against Cesar Bolanos will continue.

Following a preliminary hearing on May 16, 17-year-old Bolanos remains charged with the class A felony of first-degree murder, four counts of armed criminal action, the class B felony of first-degree assault and two counts of the class A felony of unlawful use of a weapon causing death or injury.

After hearing from five witnesses, Greene County Associate Circuit Judge Jody Stockard found probable cause to send the case against Bolanos up to the circuit court. Bolanos was arraigned by Circuit Court Judge Kaiti Greenewade on Friday, May 24.

Nguyen, 26, was a passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend on Grant Avenue near College Street on the night of Nov. 14, 2023. Police say a car full of male teenagers drove up beside Nguyen and his girlfriend, fired guns at the couple and then fled.

Nguyen’s girlfriend was shot multiple times, but survived. Nguyen died at the scene of the shooting.

Timothy Hester, 17, and Elysha Bedell, 19, are also charged with murder in Nguyen’s death.

All three teens are held without bond. Bedell is in the Greene County Jail.

Although Bolanos and Hester are both being charged with crimes in adult court, they are being held in the Greene County Juvenile Detention Center in Springfield as their cases progress.

Witness: Bolanos hid gun and tried to flush bullets while police banged on the door

One witness prosecutors called at the preliminary hearing said Bolanos was in her apartment, holding an “AR-style gun,” which law enforcement agents wrote in court documents is a .223-caliber AR pistol, an hour or two before the fatal shooting on Nov. 14.

She testified that Hester and the others took her car that night around the same time of the shooting and that when they returned, it appeared the back windshield glass of her car had been shot out.

She testified that when law enforcement agents descended on her apartment the following day — where Bedell, Bolanos and Hester were hanging out — Bolanos rushed to the bathroom and attempted to take apart a gun and hide it. She testified Bolanos also tried to flush bullets down her toilet while police were banging on the apartment door.

Looking east at the intersection of Grant Avenue and College Street in downtown Springfield, where 26-year-old Chaviz Nguyen was shot and killed in November 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

That same witness — someone who was in a relationship with Hester — testified she was aware Bolanos, Hester and Bedell were “affiliated” with the ODB gang (Only Da Brothers). But she stopped short on the witness stand of saying she believed they were actually members of the gang.

Stuart Huffman, Bolanos’ defense attorney, pushed the witness about why she didn’t call the police and put herself in a safer position.

“It’s not that easy,” the woman said.

Was a fourth person involved?

Witnesses who testified at Bolanos’ preliminary hearing mentioned the nickname or first name of at least one other person who might have been involved in the car-to-car shooting.

But at this time, police have not publicly named any other suspects in the murder.

One witness testified there was another person with the trio on the day of the shooting.

Another witness who took the stand May 16 said Bedell called him later that evening and asked for a ride. That witness said he picked up Bedell and three others and gave them a ride.

That witness said he doesn’t remember where he dropped them off, but recalled seeing a “drum” (slang for an ammunition magazine) in Balonos’ waistband. This witness said another man — someone other than the three charged with murder — dropped a gun that appeared to be an AR pistol when that person got out of the witness’ vehicle.

This witness was evasive with his answers and claimed to not remember details. He explained that he had taken “shrooms” the night before. Drug users ingest psilocybin mushrooms to produce an effect that may include hallucinations. This witness said he was subpoenaed to testify.

When asked if he provided the teens with marijuana, the man responded: “I plead the Fifth.”

Motive for deadly shooting not clear

According to the probable cause statement filed against Bedell, a witness told investigators she knew of an ongoing disturbance between Bedell and a friend of Nguyen’s related to a past homicide.

Nguyen’s girlfriend Haley Frillman was the first witness called to testify at Bolanos’ preliminary hearing. Frillman was pregnant with Nguyen’s baby at the time of the shooting. Frillman was shot multiple times, but she survived and went on to deliver the baby.

Nguyen’s father Chea Nguyen told a reporter with KY3 he believes the homicide to be a case of mistaken identity — that the vehicle Nguyen and Frillman were in that night looked like that of “someone they were looking for.”

“My son did not know them,” Chea Nguyen told KY3.

On the witness stand, Frillman said she did not recognize Bolanos outside of court proceedings.

Police tracked down the three suspects thanks in part to surveillance footage from Acme Transportation that captured the suspect vehicle as it drove through different areas of Springfield.

Armed with a license plate number and specific characteristics of the car, Springfield police identified the registered owner of the car and went to her apartment Nov. 15. There, officers found Hester attempting to leave in the vehicle, and Bedell and Bolanos inside the apartment.

Nguyen’s girlfriend also shot but survived

Haley Frillman's baby, now just a few months old, slept peacefully in a carrier throughout the nearly two-hour hearing May 16.

Frillman testified she and Nguyen had just dropped off Nguyen’s older son at his grandparents' house, and the couple was heading to a restaurant sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 14.

As they traveled north on Kansas Expressway in central Springfield, Frillman said Nguyen noticed a dark sedan “full of males staring into our car.”

Frillman said the sedan was “window-to-window” on the right side of her vehicle — on Nguyen’s side. She testified how the sedan continued to match her vehicle’s speed and then followed her when she turned east on Chestnut Expressway. She said the sedan disappeared for a few moments and then reappeared on the left side of her vehicle, again matching her speed and driving “window-to-window.” As she turned onto Grant Avenue, she heard gunshots.

Frillman recalled seeing Nguyen unresponsive in the passenger seat. She did not have a cellphone, so she drove to a busy intersection, stopped the car and yelled for help.

Frillman said she could not see or recognize any of the faces in the dark sedan and could not recall exactly how many shots she heard.

“A ton,” she said. “I couldn’t give you a guess.”

Elysha Bedell
Elysha Bedell was arrested Nov. 15, 2023. (Booking photo by Greene County Sheriff's Office)

Frillman said she was shot in the leg and finger. Asked if her injuries affected her pregnancy, Frillman said yes.

“With my leg, it caused two blood clots,” she said, explaining that meant she had to take blood thinners and was treated for a “high risk” pregnancy.

“I was stuck in a wheelchair for I don’t know how long,” Frillman said.

Asked if the shooting had any effects on her baby, Frillman said the child was born with “shakes.”

“They said it could be trauma related,” she said. The tremors, she said, have gone away and the baby is healthy now.

One suspect paralyzed from 2019 shooting

Bedell, who is paralyzed at the waist and uses a wheelchair, is scheduled for a case management conference on Sept. 17, 2024, in Greene County Circuit Judge Todd Myers’ courtroom.

A few months prior to Nguyen’s death, Bedell was charged with possession of a controlled substance and tampering with a vehicle.

According to the probable cause statement from that case, Bedell was a suspect in a shooting on July 30, 2019, during which Bedell sustained gunshot wounds that left him paralyzed. Another person involved in the 2019 shooting was “uncooperative” so no charges were filed, a police officer wrote in the report.

Mugshots not available of 17-year-old suspects

Bill Prince, Greene County’s family court administrator and chief juvenile officer, said there are no publicly-available booking photographs of Bolanos or Hester because the teens are not booked into the Greene County Jail.

Despite being charged as adults, Bolanos and Hester will probably remain at the juvenile detention center until they turn 18, Prince said. At that time, they will be booked into the Greene County Jail.

Other reasons they might be released from the center include making bond, if charges are dropped or if they are determined to be too dangerous for the juvenile facility and are booked into the adult jail. But none of those scenarios appear likely at this time.

Hester has a motion hearing on May 29, in Judge Stockard’s courtroom.

Bolanos is scheduled for a case management conference on Aug. 27, in Judge Greenwade’s courtroom.

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Hauxeda. She covers public safety, the courts, homelessness, domestic violence and other social issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald