Police last year found Temple University student Agatha Hall in her North Philadelphia apartment with a gun beside her body, a gunshot wound to her head, and a bullet hole in the wall.

Did the 21-year-old commit suicide, or was she killed?

Lawyers began sparring over that question before a Common Pleas Court jury Wednesday as the murder trial began for Hall's former boyfriend, Brandon Meade.

Prosecutors, led by Assistant District Attorney Andrew Notaristefano, have alleged that Meade, 30, fired his 9mm handgun at Hall, then staged the scene in her bedroom to look like a suicide.

Hall's body was found early on Aug. 31, 2015, on the floor beneath a bedside dresser, Officer Matthew Market testified, and Meade's weapon was found loaded on the floor next to her.

Meade's attorney, Evan Hughes, is expected to argue that Hall had been depressed by recent deaths in her family. While cross-examining several detectives Wednesday, Hughes sought to emphasize that investigators initially treated the case as a suicide.

Meade was arrested two weeks after Hall's death, but was questioned the day the body was found, admitting that he had been at her house but telling investigators that she had shot herself.

Hall arrived in the United States from Ghana and grew up with family in Minnesota and later Philadelphia, her aunt Agatha Badio testified.

The longest testimony came from Robert Lay, 29, Hall's friend at Temple and a onetime romantic interest. Lay testified that on the night Hall died, she called him and, after a few seconds, began whispering that she would have to call him back.

"Something was happening," Lay said.

A few minutes later, a man called Lay from Hall's number and began "cursing and hollering at me," Lay testified. Lay said he did not recognize the man's voice, but heard Hall in the background screaming: "Don't say nothing!"

Lay said he figured it was a routine argument between Hall and her boyfriend - whom Lay did not know - so he went to sleep. When he woke up, a friend texted him that Hall had been found dead at her apartment. He then went to Temple police to provide a statement about the phone calls from the night before, and later gave similar information to Philadelphia police.

Hughes pushed Lay on his testimony, characterizing discrepancies in his statements as lies to cover up his role in Hall's death. Lay calmly rejected Hughes' implications, noting that he went to police on his own because he did not believe Hall would have killed herself.

Testimony was scheduled to resume Thursday.


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