After a turbulent week in courtooms across the circuit, the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office secured a guilty vedict in a murder case it previously offered to nolle prosse.
A jury of 12 Bulloch County citizens returned a guilty verdict for Jamontea Pitts on one count of malice murder, one count of felony murder, and one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of felony in the shooting death of 25-year-old Forrest Kibler.
The interesting twist: District Attorney Daphne Totten previously offered to dismiss the murder charges against Pitts if he testified against a former co-defendant.
Ashton Marquise King and Jamontea Marquil Pitts were both arrested in November 2016 for the shooting death of Kibler, who was killed in Park Place Apartments on Lanier Drive in Statesboro. A grand jury indicted both on eight felony counts in January 2017: Malice Murder, Felony Murder, Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute, Felony Murder, Armed Robbert, Felony Murder, Burglary in the 1st Degree, and Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony.
Attorneys successfully argued for the cases to be severed and tried separately due to the supposed separate roles each played in the events of the November incident.
Pitts, who the court declared indigent, cycled through a number of attorneys, five of which were appointed by the court, over the four and a half years he spent in jail. In February 2019, a plea was offered to Pitts: a guilty plea on Armed Robbery and Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute with twenty years to serve and 10 years on probation accompanied by the truthful testimony in a trial against King in exchange for the state dropping the murder charges and the burglary charge against Pitts.
The February 2019 court transcripts indicate that Pitts was at that time represented by defense Attorney Gabe Cliett who said he presented the case to his client three times. Pitts told the court he understood the risk of trial but was unwilling to accept responsibility for something he did not do.
Totten told the Court during the same hearing that based on Pitts rejection of the plea offer, they would try him first. She said had Pitts cooperated via a plea deal, his case would have been presented to jurors second.
Ultimately, Pitts’ case was not tried first. His co-defendant, Ashton King, was represented by private legal counsel, Attorney Kimberley Copeland, and Totten tried that case herself in April 2019. Pitts appeared on the stand during that trial but invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. In a request by his legal counsel not to compel Pitts to take the stand when he previously stated he would not testify, Totten told the court Pitts had been offered a 30 year sentence for pleading to Armed Robbery (18 years to serve) and serving 12 years on probation, a plea offer that varied by ten years from the one she put on the record two months prior.
After four days of presentation and an hour and fifteen minutes of deliberations by the jury, King was found ‘not guilty’ on all eight counts.
It would be two more years before Pitts would face a jury trial, which commenced on June 30, bringing Pitts’ total time behind bars before trial to four years, seven months and three weeks. By 2021, Pitts was represented by Vidalia Attorney Jack M. Downie and Statesboro Attorney Robert Mock.
Tried by Assistant District Attorney Russell Jones, Pitts’ trial in Judge Lovett Bennett’s courtroom this week consisted of two days worth of statements and witness testimony. The jury was charged around 10:00 a.m. Friday and returned a verdict around 3:30 p.m.
Pitts has not yet been sentenced, however, a 2011 Armed Robbery charge, to which he pleaded guilty in 2012, prompted the state to seek recidivist punishment for “the longest period of time prescribed for the punishment of the [crimes alleged].”