Less than 24 hours after making his NFL debut, Corey Ballentine was back in Topeka to testify Monday morning at the preliminary hearing for an 18-year-old man accused of killing Ballentine's best friend, former Washburn University teammate Dwane Simmons.

Ballentine, a Shawnee Heights High School graduate who was wounded in the same shooting incident, was one of 13 people who were called to testify at the Shawnee County District Court hearing for Francisco Alejandro Mendez, of Topeka, who is accused of killing Simmons in the early-morning hours of April 28 near S.W. 13th and Lane. Simmons, 23, was a defensive back for the Ichabods who would have been a senior this fall.

Hours before the shooting, Ballentine on April 27 had been selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Ballentine, 23, recovered from his injuries and soon joined the Giants, where he made the team as a cornerback and kick returner. On Sunday afternoon, he returned two kickoffs for 46 yards for the Giants in their season opener at Dallas, a game the Cowboys won 35-17.

Wearing a long-sleeve, light blue shirt and dark-colored slacks, Ballentine was the first person called to the witness stand during Monday morning's hearing, which started shortly after 9 a.m. in Division 11 of Shawnee County District Court. Judge Cheryl Rios is presiding in the case.

Ballentine answered questions from Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay and from defense attorney Kevin Shepherd for about 50 minutes.

Mendez, wearing a dark-green jail jumpsuit, sat at the defense table with defense attorney Shepherd.

During his testimony, Ballentine recalled the excitement of being selected by the Giants on April 27 and of spending the day celebrating with friends before going to a party that night at a residence known as the "soccer house" in the 1200 block of S.W. Lane.

As Ballentine and several of his Washburn teammates were leaving the party around 12:30 a.m. on April 28, he said, they gathered for a few minutes in the 1400 block of S.W. 13th to discuss plans for the following day.

While they were talking, Ballentine said, he noticed a small, white, four-door car with no lights turning west onto S.W 13th Street from S.W. Lane.

As the car approached the group, Ballentine said, it slowed and came to a stop. Someone in the car asked the players if they smoked. After the players said "no," someone else in the car asked their names. Someone in the group of football players replied, "Don't worry about all that," Ballentine said.

At that point, Ballentine said, the car pulled forward about 20 feet then came to an abrupt stop just east of a stop sign at S.W. 13th and Washburn.

Ballentine said he was keeping an eye on the car and soon began hearing gunshots.

"Initially, it was slow," he said of the gunfire. "Then it started speeding up after I started running."

Ballentine said he and the rest of the players ran in different directions.

He said he realized he'd been wounded but "kept running," going to a friend's house in the same area. Ballentine said he began trying to call his friends who'd been with him on their mobile phones. First, Ballentine said, he tried Simmons, "but he didn't pick up." Ballentine said he then got in touch with James Letcher Jr., another Washburn teammate, and told him to come pick him up because he needed to go to the hospital.

Ballentine said the bullet ended up in his "right butt cheek" near his pelvic bone. The bullet is still there, he said.

It wasn't until later that Ballentine realized his friend Simmons had been fatally wounded, he said.                                                                 

The second person called to testify Monday morning was Alan Martinez, deputy district coroner for Shawnee County, who said Simmons died from a single gunshot wound to the right area of the forehead. Martinez said the bullet was removed from the left rear of Simmons' head during an autopsy. The bullet then was photographed before it was turned over to law enforcement as evidence.

Letcher, a current Washburn University football player, also testified Monday morning and provided his recollections of the events that led to the shooting.

Letcher said he, Ballentine, Simmons, Channon Ross and Kevin Neal Jr. were talking outside on S.W. 13th between Lane and Washburn avenues when the white car pulled up.

When the car stopped, Letcher said, he said he didn't recognize anyone inside the vehicle. "We'd never seen them before," he said.

The fact that the car pulled up and stopped about 5 feet away from the group "was kind of weird," Letcher said.

There were four or five people in the car, Letcher said.

When the car pulled down the street, Letcher said, he and the others didn't think anything of it.

Then, when shots rang out, "we all ran our separate ways," he said.

There were "a lot" of shots fired, Letcher said.

Investigators said about 20 shots were fired into the group of five football players.

After running to his nearby apartment, Letcher said tried to call Simmons but "he didn't answer."

Letcher said he and a couple of the others who were outside before shots were fired found out that Ballentine had been wounded and took him to the hospital.

Under questioning from Shepherd, Letcher said he had been to other parties at the "soccer house" before that night. He said on occasion, people who hadn't been invited had been asked to leave, though he didn't recall such an instance that night, nor did he witness any confrontations at the party.

Both Ballentine and Letcher acknowledged under questioning from Shepherd that they had several drinks in the hours before the shooting, but said they weren't intoxicated.

They also described the driver of the car as having "light skin" and appearing to be Hispanic.

On July 12, Kagay announced he had charged Mendez in the shootings of Simmons and Ballentine after he became convinced he could prove Mendez’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Kagay said Mendez was arrested May 1 in connection with three robberies allegedly committed a day earlier and sat in jail for about 10 weeks as investigators worked to build a case against him in the double shooting.

At the outset of Monday's hearing, Shawnee County Deputy District Attorney Charles Kitt said the state may seek to file additional charges in the case.

Kitt said investigators have linked Mendez to a carjacking that occurred the night of April 27 in which a white, Chevrolet Cruze was stolen near S.W. 21st and Fairlawn. Kitt said that same car was used in the shooting in which Simmons was killed and Ballentine was wounded.

In addition to being charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, Mendez also is charged with two counts of aggravated robbery allegedly committed April 27 and three counts of aggravated robbery allegedly committed April 30. He is being held on a $1 million bond in the Shawnee County Jail.

Monday's preliminary hearing was expected to last most of the day. At the conclusion, Judge Rios was to decide whether enough evidence had been presented to bring Mendez to trial.

Among those seated in the courtroom gallery Monday morning were Navarro Simmons, the father of Dwane Simmons, who sat in the first row directly behind the defense table; Washburn University football coach Craig Schurig; and the Rev. T.D. Hicks, pastor of Antioch Missionary Baptist church and a volunteer coach for the Ichabod football team.