By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers
Her jaw clenched, eyes shielded behind glasses, the mother of shooting victim Roshawn Pitts sat with arms and legs crossed, nodding her head emphatically Thursday as each guilty verdict was read.
William Riley, 33, showed no emotion as his family members shook their heads in disbelief and anger after a Curry County jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and three related charges. The jury returned the verdict after less than an hour-and-a-half of deliberations to end the four-day trial.
Pitts was shot three times in the driveway of an apartment at 916 Axtell on June 25, 2004.
Judge Joe Parker agreed to impose the mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder immediately for the benefit of the victim’s mother, Rochelle Russell who had traveled from Riverside, Calif.
Riley will not be eligible for parole for at least 30 years.
“He was my only son, he was my baby,” Russell told the court. “He was gunned down like a dog.”
Her voice filled with anger, she said “to me a life is a life — no daylight … give him life-plus so he will never see the light of day.”
Riley’s family members declined to comment as they were leaving the courthouse.
During Thursday morning’s closing arguments, District Attorney Matt Chandler walked the jurors through the testimony and evidence step-by-step. As he neared the end, he pointed to the clock, saying it was six minutes from the moment Pitts died exactly 23 months ago.
Riley, he said, killed Pitts after his former girlfriend began seeing him and refused to reconcile with Riley.
“You are my oxygen. I want you back, without you I can’t breath … Where did we go wrong?” said Chandler, quoting a letter he said Riley wrote her shortly before the shooting.
“The evidence in this case is overwhelming — a 20-year-old did not need to die,” Chandler said.
Defense attorney Luis Juarez said the evidence did not show the bullets fired by Riley resulted in the death of Pitts.
Juarez asked the jurors to measure the credibility of police detective Keith Farkas, who during testimony admitted to mistakes in evidence labeling, and of witness Chris Aultman, the driver of the car in which Pitts was shot. Juarez suggested the bullets that killed Pitts could have come from the driver’s seat.
Since none of the hollow point bullets, designed to stay inside a body, were found by the medical examiner during an autopsy, responsibility for the death of Pitts could not be Riley’s, according to Juarez.
“He may have had no business coming out there shooting and running but they have not proven that those are the missiles that shot Mr. Pitts,” Juarez said.
Juarez said he intends to file an appeal.
A hearing will be scheduled next month to determine sentencing on counts of aggravated assault, tampering with evidence and shooting at a motor vehicle.
The additional charges could increase Riley’s sentence by 25 years, according to Chandler.