The second of two men charged in connection with a 2014 triple shooting that left a local woman dead was convicted Thursday after a four-day trial and could face up to 80 years in prison when formally sentenced next week.
The seven-man, five-woman Garland County Circuit Court jury deliberated for about two hours before finding Benjamin Mickey Pitts, 28, guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm enhancement for the April 30, 2014, shooting death of Mayela Mata, 26, inside her apartment at 200 Springwood Road, located off Majestic Lodge Road.
Pitts, who had only recently been paroled, was also found guilty of aggravated residential burglary, being a felon in possession of a firearm and two counts of second-degree battery, for injuries sustained by Mata's 20-month-old daughter and a visitor, Antouin Bond, who were also shot during the incident.
The jury deliberated for about an hour before recommending a sentence of 20 years in prison on the murder charge and 10 years for the firearm enhancement, which automatically runs consecutively; 20 years for the aggravated residential burglary; and 10 years each for the firearm possession charge and the two battery counts.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Joe Graham said late Thursday it will be up to Judge Marcia Hearnsberger to decide at the sentencing hearing set for Tuesday if the sentences will run consecutively or concurrently. If it's the former, Pitts would be facing 80 years in prison, although Graham noted he could be eligible for parole after about 20 years.
Pitts' accomplice, Steven Swanigan, 33, was convicted Oct. 13 of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree battery after a four-day trial and was sentenced to 60 years in prison, 40 of which he will have to serve day for day with no possibility of parole because of his status as a habitual offender with a prior conviction for a serious felony.
Deputy Prosecutor Kara Petro, in describing the shooting, had said that around 5 p.m. Mata was inside her apartment with her daughter, her boyfriend, Terrance Scott, his brother, Joseph Scott, their friend, Bond, and a 15-year-old who was upstairs when "the front door burst open" and Swanigan entered armed with two handguns and opened fire. Mata received a fatal shot to the head, her daughter was hit on her left side and right arm and Bond was hit in the back.
The daughter was airlifted to Arkansas Children's Hospital where she was treated and eventually released and Bond was treated and released that same day at a local hospital.
Graham said they believed "all along" Swanigan was the actual shooter, but that Pitts was an accomplice who had accompanied Swanigan to the apartments and came in behind him moments later also armed with a handgun.
He said security video showed that a white 1995 Cadillac pulled up near the front of the victim's apartment and the driver's door "flew open." The driver, Swanigan, jumped out and entered the apartment. The passenger door opened partially and closed again, and was then finally forced open, and Pitts went in shortly after Swanigan.
"I think (Pitts) had trouble getting the door open and had to finally kick the door to get it open," Graham said, noting a partial shoe print recovered from the door was matched to shoes Pitts was seen wearing earlier.
Graham said they had always suspected robbery was the motive for the attack and Pitts' attorney, William Luppen, of Little Rock, had argued Swanigan and his passenger were there because of marijuana and other drugs believed to be at the apartment, but he disputed the state's contention that Pitts was the passenger.
Graham said when Swanigan entered the apartment, he yelled, "Everybody get down!" which would seem to indicate he intended to rob them. The two Scott brothers were not in the front room when he came in so he couldn't see them. "I think they were peeking around the door," he said, and it was possible Swanigan panicked and began shooting.
"He couldn't tell where everyone was or what they were doing," he said.
Graham said they were confident Pitts was the passenger, but noted the case against him was not as solid as the one against Swanigan. He also noted the jury's decision to go with the lesser charge of second-degree murder "probably went more toward his mental state at the time" and his role as an accomplice.
He said the woman Swanigan had borrowed the Cadillac from identified Pitts out of a photo lineup as the man who had been with Swanigan. They also had the testimony of a store clerk Pitts had bought gloves from shortly before the shooting who was so suspicious of Pitts' behavior he got the license plate of the vehicle he was in, a Nissan Versa belonging to Swanigan.
They also had security video from Walmart of Swanigan and Pitts buying ammunition four days before the shooting.
"I would like to thank the jury for their patience and careful attention to all of the testimony and evidence," Petro said. "It was an extreme amount of information to absorb in four days."
She said they were happy with the verdict in light of the fact Pitts was not the shooter. "We will have to wait and see as far as the sentence. Obviously, it is very concerning that (Pitts) was only out of prison for one week prior to committing this offense. Protecting our community from dangerous offenders is my number one concern."Local on 10/28/2017
Print Headline: Second man convicted in 2014 triple shooting Could face 80 years in prison at sentencing