Local News

Pittman found guilty in missing Rocky Mount woman's death

Posted September 29, 2011 2:06 p.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2012 7:34 p.m. EDT

— After less than an hour of deliberation, a jury on Thursday found an Edgecombe County man guilty of first-degree murder in the strangling death of a Rocky Mount woman more than two years ago.

"You all are sending an innocent man to prison for life," a sobbing Antwan Maurice Pittman yelled afterward. "I did not kill that woman."

Tahara Shenice Nicholson, 28, was found dead in some woods 5 miles from Pittman's childhood home on March 7, 2009, two weeks after her father reported her missing.

"There are so many tears, but they are tears of joy," Nicholson's mother, Diana Nicholson, said after the verdict. "I am so thankful I got justice."

Pittman's aunt, Karin Pittman, however, said the jury got it wrong.

"Everybody wants justice, but I don't think justice was served today," she said.

Tahara Nicholson was one of nine Rocky Mount women who had been reported missing when their bodies were found over a four-year period across three counties – many of them in locations close to where Pittman had lived at some point in his life.

A 10th woman is still missing, and although he's never been charged, authorities have said that Pittman, 33, is a suspect in at least seven of the other cases.

All of the women share similar backgrounds and physical appearances, and many knew one another and frequented Holly Street in Rocky Mount, an area known for drug activity and prostitution.

Edgecombe County prosecutors and authorities wouldn't comment Thursday afternoon on where the other investigations stand, but the women's families have said they are convinced that Pittman is responsible for their losses, too.

His conviction Thursday brought some of them, including Jackie Wiggins, some relief.

The skeletal remains of Wiggins' 35-year-old daughter, Jackie Thorpe, were discovered in August 2007 close to where Nicholson was found.

For Wiggins, justice for Nicholson is almost like justice for her daughter, too.

"The fact that he'll never hit the streets – never hit dirt as far as walking the streets that he walked, that my daughter walked or any other victims walked – that's peace enough for me"

"He won't be back out there to do that to anybody else's child," said Juray Tucker, whose daughter, Yolanda Lancaster, was found in January. She was last seen alive on Feb. 5, 2009, less than three weeks before Nicholson went missing.

Jarniece Hargrove's mother and sister, however, say they still need answers.

"We need to have closure as well," sister said Pepita Hargove said.

A state trooper arrested Pittman on April 25, 2009 – the day Jarniece Hargrove's family last saw her – after finding him asleep in the driver's seat of a parked car about 200 yards from where her body was found two months later.

Pepita Hargrove said she is happy Pittman will spend life in prison but worries that she will spend a lifetime with questions.

"The other girls – we are just left out in space," she said. "What's going to happen (with the investigation about) my sister? I do not want it to be a closed case file on her."

"I want to say to Mr. Antoine tonight, 'How much does it take? Are you ready to talk?" mother Patsy Hargrove said.

Jurors never heard any of the evidence regarding the other women. Because of the high-profile investigation into the deaths, a judge moved the trial from Edgecombe County to nearby Bertie County.

The jury was seated Monday, and by Wednesday morning, prosecutors had rested their case.

Pittman admitted on the witness stand Wednesday that he paid Nicholson to have sex with him at a hotel but that he dropped her off afterward near a library in Rocky Mount.

Six days later, hunters found Nicholson's body.

Investigators eventually linked Pittman to Nicholson's death through DNA, and prosecutors, in closing arguments Thursday morning, painted him as a man obsessed with rape and violence who had a history of attacking prostitutes. (Read more about Thursday's closing arguments.)

Defense attorneys, however, argued that the state's case was weak and that there was no solid evidence linking Pittman to Nicholson's death.

"The state chose a person they were going to try for murder," defense attorney Tom Sallenger said. "The state has created its own coincidences by cherry-picking things from his life."

Pittman was at Central Prison in Raleigh on Thursday night, where he will stay while being placed into the state prison system.