Tyler Sherrod Clay hired Keith Antoine Spratt to kill Joshua Ladale Pittman “out of just plain, old-fashioned revenge” after Pittman robbed Clay in 2015, a McLennan County prosecutor told jurors Monday.
A convenience store employee, a crime scene technician and a pathologist opened testimony Monday in Clay’s capital murder trial in Waco’s 54th State District Court.
Clay, 29, of Hewitt, is charged with hiring Spratt to kill Pittman, 37, who was shot four times while he was playing an eight-liner video gambling machine at an East Waco convenience store in December 2015.
Spratt, 30, also is charged with capital murder in Pittman’s death. His case remains pending.
In opening statements, prosecutor Christi Hunting Horse told jurors that an eyewitness now serving a federal drug sentence will testify that he was in the store that night and recognized the masked shooter as Spratt.
Clay’s Houston-based defense attorney, Randy Schaffer, told jurors that Pittman was a convicted child molester, a convicted drug dealer and a registered sex offender who robbed a number of people in Waco. He made a lot of enemies who wanted to kill him, Schaffer said.
He said Pittman robbed Spratt at a dice game and slapped him in front of his friends. Spratt told people he wanted to kill Pittman and he likely did, but Clay was not involved in his death, Schaffer asserted.
Schaffer acknowledged that Clay, who owned a smoke shop that included eight-liner machines, was also a gambler and a bookie. But he asked the jury why Clay would waste his money hiring Spratt when he knew Spratt was going to kill Pittman anyway.
Myron Burley, who has worked at the Pick N Pay Foodmart at 504 Faulkner Lane for 13 years, testified he was standing outside taking a break about 11 p.m. when a man with a bandanna covering the lower half of his face walked up to the store and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt up to cover the top of his face.
Sensing trouble, Burley, who has been robbed twice at the store, asked the man to remove his hood before entering the store. The man did not comply and looked like he was reaching for something in his pants while walking inside, Burley said.
He started to call 911 when he said he heard four or five gunshots in rapid succession coming from inside the store. He went in to check on the clerk, thinking he had been robbed and shot. Instead, he found Pittman sitting in the same chair where he had been playing eight-liners for at least 13 hours throughout the day.
Burley said Pittman was gasping for air, and he died while Burley was on the phone with the 911 operator. The operator asked him if there was a way he could stop the bleeding.
“I said all I can do is pray for him, and I did,” Burley said.
Under cross-examination, Schaffer told Burley that police had found black tar heroin, crack cocaine and marijuana in Pittman’s pockets, and he questioned why Pittman would stay in the store that day for so long unless he had an arrangement to deal drugs there.
Burley denied that they allowed anyone to deal drugs in the store.
Dr. Jill Urban, a pathologist from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas, testified that Pittman was shot once in the right cheek, once in the upper back, once in the lower back and once in the right shoulder.
She said the autopsy revealed he recently used methamphetamine and marijuana.
Prosecution testimony continues Tuesday morning.
If Clay is convicted of capital murder, he faces an automatic sentence of life without parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in the case.