A four-time felon testified Tuesday that Tyler Sherrod Clay offered to pay him $5,000 to kill Joshua Ladale Pittman to avenge Clay after Pittman robbed him after a dice game in 2015.
James Spears, 32, said he declined Clay’s offer but told Clay he would do it for free because Clay is a friend.
“Clearly, it was the wrong decision, but I was just thinking I would help a friend who couldn’t help himself in the situation he was in,” Spears testified in Clay’s capital murder trial in 54th State District Court.
Because he was on parole, Spears said he did not have a gun. However, before he could find one, he was arrested for aggravated robbery a week later and did not get the chance to fulfill his promise to Clay, Spears said.
Clay, 29, of Hewitt, is charged with hiring Keith Antoine 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 is pending in 19th State District Court.
Also Tuesday, Donta Tazon Stuart, a former Waco heroin dealer known as “the Godfather” who is serving 12 years in federal prison, told the jury that he was in the Pick N Pay Foodmart at 504 Faulkner Lane when Pittman was gunned down. He said he recognized Spratt as the shooter in a dark hoodie with a bandanna covering the lower half of his face.
The trial bogged down frequently Tuesday as Clay’s attorney, Randy Schaffer, vigorously challenged the admissibility of the inmates’ testimonies. He also charged that prosecutors withheld evidence favorable to the defense regarding deals the inmates are seeking as rewards for their testimonies.
Schaffer, complaining to Judge Matt Johnson, said the prosecutors’ alleged ethical and legal violations are a “systemic problem that runs deep here in this county.”
“They are trying to do to me what they do to every defense lawyer in town, and I’m not going to put up with it,” Schaffer said.
Both inmates testified that they expected prosecutors to look on their testimonies favorably. Spears said he hopes to get a better deal on his pending aggravated robbery cases, while Stuart said he hopes to get a reduction in his federal prison time.
Prosecutor Hilary LaBorde said she made no promises to Stuart, but acknowledged, at Schaffer’s urging, and stipulated in front of the jury that she decided after hearing Stuart testify that she will write a letter to federal authorities telling them she believes Stuart’s testimony was truthful and consistent with his previous statements.
It would be up to federal officials to cut his prison time, she said.
Stuart, who has five felony convictions, including conspiracy to distribute heroin, said he knew Spratt, Clay and Pittman from around town. He said he was in the store talking to the clerk when the man he identified as Spratt walked in and shot Pittman four times while he was playing a video gambling machine.
He ran to the cooler to hide during the shooting and then slipped out of the store before police arrived.
“I wasn’t going to say anything at first,” Stuart told the jury. “But it changed when I started getting followed. I started seeing Keith and Little Bull (Clay) following me. I started getting looks from them and it wasn’t friendly no more. Keith’s whole vibe toward me just changed. It’s like if you kill somebody, you don’t leave any witnesses. That’s how it was.”
Under cross-examination from Schaffer, Stuart said he has a tattoo with “Godfather” spelled out and said he was making about $60,000 a month for two years at the peak of his heroin-dealing business. He acknowledged he continued to deal heroin while working as a confidential informant for a Waco police drug enforcement detective and said he used the money to take care of the 15 children he has with 12 women.
Prosecution testimony will continue Wednesday 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.