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Jurors urged to use common sense in Rocky Mount murder trial

Posted September 27, 2011

— Prosecutors trying a Rocky Mount man for first-degree murder say jurors must use reason and common sense as they hear evidence that, they say, will prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed a woman more than two years ago and left her body in a rural area of Edgecombe County.

"We are not going to start by telling you what every witness is going to say. You need to listen to them," Assistant District Attorney Steve Graham said Tuesday during opening statements of Antwan Maurice Pittman's trial.

Pittman, 33, is accused of killing 28-year-old Taraha Shenice Nicholson, who disappeared in February 2009. Hunters found her remains in a wooded area near Seven Bridges Road on March 7, 2009.

Prosecutors' opening statements were brief, with Graham providing no theories about what might have led to Nicholson's death.

"It's important in this case, whatever you hear, to keep your reason and common sense throughout this entire proceeding, regardless to what you hear," Graham said. "Do not take your reason or common sense, at any time, and simply throw them away."

Defense attorneys, however, said Pittman met Nicholson in February 2009 while she was working as a prostitute but that he did not hurt her.

Pittman, attorney Tom Sallenger said, will tell jurors about that encounter, which ended with him dropping her off where he had met her.

"You must keep an open mind and let this young man tell you about his rendezvous with his young lady and about what happened," Sallenger said. "Listen to him, and see what you believe about this case, because ladies and gentleman, there will not be one single person that will come forward and be able to say that they saw this man do anything to Taraha Nicholson."

Taraha Shenice Nicholson Murder trial begins for Rocky mount man

Pittman was arrested for Nicholson's death in September 2009, but authorities have said that he is a suspect or person of interest in the deaths of at least seven of nine other women fitting similar descriptions whose bodies were found in the same area of Edgecombe County over a four-year span.

A 10th woman is still missing.

Extensive coverage of the investigation forced the trial from Edgecombe County to Bertie County, where the jury of six men and six women was seated Monday.

Nicholson's mother wiped tears from her eyes on Tuesday as Dr. William Oliver, a medical examiner, showed jurors autopsy photos. He testified that her daughter suffered injuries that were consistent with strangulation. Nicholson also had several long linear scratches on her abdomen, which Oliver said, appeared to him, as if she had been dragged.

Nicholson had likely been dead for no more than three days when her remains were discovered, Oliver said.

"She was lying on her right side with her arms up over her head," Edgecombe County sheriff's investigator Lt. Gene Harrell testified. "She was completely nude with the exception of a bra that was pulled up over her breast. She was wearing a pair of white, footie-type socks."

Investigators collected several pieces of clothing from the crime scene, including a purple bracelet, black T-shirt and black panties, Harrell said, as well as samples of hair and bodily fluids from Nicholson.

Erin Ermish, a lab analyst for the State Bureau of Investigation, said she found a large amount of sperm from a vaginal swabbing that led her to conclude that Nicholson had had intercourse within 24 hours of her death.

But on cross-examination, Ermish said that her testing couldn't determine whose sperm it was. Defense attorneys also pointed out that it could have been from anyone, not just Pittman.

"Do you know how many people she saw before Mr. Pittman or after Mr. Pittman in her field of work?" attorneys asked.

"No," Ermish said. "There is no other way to know."


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  • Caveman93 Sep 28, 2011

    Common Sense...Rocky Mount?

  • dollibug Sep 28, 2011

    +++++For the record, Brad Cooper IS guilty...
    September 27, 2011 2:24 p.m.

    Actually, I think you meant to say **RAILROADED**
    which better describes what happened.....

  • Its me again Sep 28, 2011

    common sense is in short supply,due to Washington putting a resrictive hold on it since the 2008 elections

  • tigresspen Sep 28, 2011

    Can't find live link for the trial today. Read a tweet that the DNA from Taraha's body matched Pittman's DNA taken while he was in jail. Good! But defense is saying he did have sex with her but she was alive when he last saw her.

  • ready4achange Sep 28, 2011

    Take a look at one of the witness's testimony...true there was DNA found on the body but it could not be determined whose DNA it is...they states that she may have been killed about 24 hours before her body was found and could have had intercourse at least 24 hours before her death...defense really made the prosecution discredited by asking could it be determined whose DNA it was...SBI agent stated that she could only see that seimen was there and not who it belonged too...for Heaven's sake...if this guy did it he should rot in hell...but with testimonies like yesterday..he may work because the jurors are encouraged to USE COMMON SENSE!

  • tigresspen Sep 28, 2011

    I'm trying to stay positive and believe justice will be served with this trial. I, too, hope common sense is applied when it comes to beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • dollibug Sep 27, 2011

    ++++++hwdusa, i guess it wouldn't hurt you to read some of the past stories. there is only any physical evidence in this one case, which is why this is the only murder he is charged in. his semen was found on her corpse.

    I guess he will NOT get out of this then....

  • RB aka Spirit Warrior Woman Sep 27, 2011

    The judge is expecting every one of the twelve jurors to have common sense, and use it!?!

    Naive, totally naive!!!

  • bobbyj Sep 27, 2011

    if there is not video evidence that he killed this poor women he will be set free. Not because he is innocent but because our trial system is messed up. The CSI shows have made it impossible for a jury to find anyone guilty of anything.

  • Screw WrAl Sep 27, 2011

    It's the criminal system that needs to use the common sense. People like this should not be wasting tax dollars to come to the common sense conclusion any of us can come to w/o spending one dime,