A 28-year-old associate of Chimene Onyeri struggled, at times, to answer questions about the night she learned a Travis County district judge was shot.
As the federal trial continued Wednesday, Sheridan Holleman testified Onyeri told her he was mad at a judge in Austin a couple of months before he allegedly orchestrated the 2015 assassination attempt of Travis County District Court Judge Julie Kocurek.
Onyeri was wanted in Travis County for violating his probation in connection with a case in Kocurek’s courtroom and is now facing charges in federal court.
Kocurek sat in the front row of the courtroom during the seventh day of Onyeri’s trial as Holleman testified that she didn’t initially take Onyeri’s threat seriously because she thought it was an “insane” thing to do.
Holleman said she and another person tried to talk Onyeri out of it. She recalled telling him, “How would that help anything?” The woman went on to say, “he said it was just something he had to do.”
Holleman said when Onyeri first mentioned his anger toward the judge, she didn’t know how or when he would act on his anger.
Later that year, she said Onyeri mentioned having a friend who could access the judge’s address and how he wanted to do it in late October 2015. She said he explained that if he did it around Halloween, there would be a lot of people out, plus it was supposed to be raining so it would be easier to get away or drive off.
Holleman became emotional when the defense asked her to describe how she first learned Kocurek had been shot. She said it was through a text message from Onyeri, who told her to Google the judge’s name.
Holleman said she responded to the text by telling him that Kocurek was alive to which he responded, “smh,” – an abbreviation for shaking my head. She equated Onyeri’s response to him being disappointed in the outcome.
Then, the defense asked her how she responded to Onyeri. Holleman, holding a tissue and wiping her eyes, struggled to speak.
After a long pause, the defense said, “Ms. Holleman?”
“B—- has nine lives,” she replied.
As she tried to explain why she texted that, Holleman said she felt manipulated by Onyeri and feared for her life, given how much personal information he knew about her and how much she knew about his criminal activities.
“At the time I felt like I had to play a role as if I was on his side or with him,” she testified.
Holleman first met Onyeri in 2013 when she was working at a bank in Bryan and was recruited to partake in an illegal tax fraud operation.
With surveillance images of her and Onyeri projected on a screen for jurors to view, Holleman spoke about a fraudulent IRS income tax return check she cashed for Onyeri as part of an illegal operation.
Holleman left the bank and moved to Houston and talked to Onyeri on and off. In fall 2015, Holleman said Onyeri asked to use her vehicle as part of an ATM skimming operation where they utilized two vehicles – one to keep lookout and another for the devices they put on the ATMs.
Holleman, who was on the stand for several hours Tuesday and Wednesday, testified under an agreement with the U.S. government after pleading guilty to a conspiracy-related charge.
She said she let Onyeri use her car no more than five times and was paid $500 in exchange. It was around that time in 2015 that he first mentioned his intent to harm a judge, she recalled.
The defense asked Holleman several times if she felt like she was dealing with a “killer.” Holleman answered with yes, at which point the defense questioned why, then, did she keep in contact with Onyeri. The defense also asked why she “warned” Onyeri that investigators contacted her regarding her knowledge of the shooting.
During a brief jail phone call recording between Onyeri and Holleman, she told him “don’t be saying too much.” The defense also quoted a letter they say Holleman wrote Onyeri, in which she supposedly wrote “bad things happen to good people.”
Holleman said despite talking and writing letters to Onyeri even after his arrest, she did fear him.
“I feel like at that time I was in so deep,” Holleman testified. “I knew a lot of information; he knew I knew a lot of information so at that time if I was to go to anyone he would know who it came from and possibly come after me.”
Jurors also heard testimony from a global investigator at Walmart and an associate of Onyeri who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
The trial continues on Thursday. Follow KXAN.com for updates.
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