Windsor, N.C. — Defense attorneys trying to keep a Rocky Mount man from going to prison for the rest of his life told jurors Thursday morning that there's no solid evidence to prove that he killed a woman more than two years ago whom he had hired for sex.
Antwan Maurice Pittman, 33, is on trial for first-degree murder in the death of Taraha Shenice Nicholson, a 28-year-old Rocky Mount woman who was found dead in March 2009 in rural Edgecombe County.
"Until you are fully satisfied of his guilt, Antwan is presumed innocent," attorney Tommy Moore said in closing arguments of a trial that has lasted less than a week.
"You don't convict someone of first-degree murder just because they have sex with a prostitute," he added.
Jurors began deliberating shortly after 1 p.m. Thursday.
Testifying Wednesday on his own behalf, Pittman denied killing Nicholson. He told jurors that he met her March 1, 2009, that the two had sex at a hotel but that he dropped her off afterward near a library in Rocky Mount.
Six days later, hunters found Nicholson's body in some woods approximately 5 miles from Pittman's childhood home.
"She died in those woods, and you know it," Edgecombe County District Attorney Robert Evans told jurors during the state's closing argument. "She went in there with him and never came out alive."
Evans said that Pittman's DNA was found on Nicholson's body and that he had a history of attacking prostitutes. Two former prostitutes on Wednesday recalled their encounters with Pittman, saying he tried to strangle them.
"Antwan Pittman stalked prostitutes. Antwan Pittman took Taraha Nicholson out in the woods and had sex with, then strangled her," Evans said.
Pittman had rape and violence on his mind, Evans argued. Investigators found on his home computer rape-themed pornographic videos and evidence that at least seven websites having to do with rape were visited multiple times.
"That's why he was out trolling for prostitutes, because he knew he could use them and abuse them," Evans said.
Pittman also lied to investigators, telling them that he never had sex with prostitutes, Evans said.
"He has no credibility, and you need to think about that," Evans said.
Not so, defense attorneys argued.
"Antwan didn't have to testify, but he didn't choose to run and hide," Moore told jurors. "He chose to take the stand and tell you what he knew. No one knows exactly when Taraha Nicholson died, so no one can say for sure where Antwan was when it happened."
Pittman's computer wasn't password-protected and was used by other people, the defense said, and he did not know the two other women who testified that he tried to attack them.
"The state wants to blind you with science," Moore said. "The experts did not say anything about anyone killing someone. They only testified about his DNA being on the victim, and Pittman told you himself he had sex with her."
Their science, he said, proves nothing.
But Evans urged jurors to use common sense and reason – something he stressed in opening statements two days earlier.
"What does it look like happened to this young lady?" he asked. "This wasn't done by just anybody. It was done by the man sitting just a few feet away from you – Antwan Pittman."
Authorities have said that Pittman is also a suspect in the deaths of at least seven of eight other Rocky Mount women whose bodies were found over a four-year period in the same vicinity where Nicholson was found.
He has not been charged in any of the other cases.
The high-profile investigation into those cases prompted a judge to move the trial from Edgecombe County to Bertie County. Jurors did not hear about his alleged connection to those cases.