Trial delayed for Rocky Mount murder suspect
Posted April 7, 2010 12:10 p.m. EDT
Updated April 7, 2010 6:57 p.m. EDT
Tarboro, N.C. — The state on Wednesday delayed the murder trial for a man who is charged in the death of a Rocky Mount woman and is a suspect or person of interest in at least six others.
Antwan Maurice Pittman, 31, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Taraha Shenice Nicholson, whose remains were found March 7, 2009, on Marriott Road in rural Edgecombe County – less than a month after she was reported missing.
Nicholson is one of eight women fitting a similar profile whose remains have been found in Edgecombe and Halifax counties. Authorities have said Pittman is also a suspect in at least five of the other deaths, including two cases in which remains were found over the past few weeks.
His trial was scheduled to start May 3, but District Attorney Robert Evans asked a judge Wednesday to continue the trial indefinitely, saying his office is still reviewing evidence and receiving new information from investigators.
Pittman's attorney, Tommy Moore, said the defense agrees with postponing the trial because they are still trying to get information about all elements of the larger investigation. They recently received 500 to 600 pages of new discovery.
"In light of new things that have happened in the past few weeks, we expect to get even more discovery," Moore said.
Pittman's other attorney, Tom Sallenger, said the information will be used to help them understand all the other cases.
"Our client has assured us that he is not involved in any of these events, that he's not guilty of the charges or the single charge right now that is alleged against him," Sallenger said. "He’s ready to get to trial, but he understands that it's in his best interest that, you know, you can’t go to trial if you don’t have all the information."
Meanwhile Wednesday, nearly two dozen search teams, including 100 North Carolina National Guard soldiers and teams from Florida and Tennessee, continued combing an area near and along the 13-mile Seven Bridges Road in Edgecombe County for two missing Rocky Mount women – Yolanda Renee Lancaster and Joyce Renee Durham.
The missing women share physical and lifestyle similarities with Nicholson and with seven other women who disappeared from Rocky Mount and were found dead over the past four years.
Authorities recovered Nicholson's remains, as well as those of Jarniece Latonya Hargrove, 31, Roberta Williams, 40, Ernestine Battle, 50, and Jackie Nikelia Thorpe, 35, along Seven Bridges Road,
Lancaster, 37, was last seen Feb. 5, 2009; Durham, 47, was last seen in June 2007.
Nicholson's mother, Diana Nicholson, said that although she'd like for the trial to move forward, she's supports the move to delay it so that authorities can continue their investigation. She and family members of some of the other victims believe Pittman is involved in the other cases.
"It really hurts, but like I say, it's worth waiting for," she said. "Whatever time they need, it's worth waiting for."
Crews also searched near where the remains of Melody LaShae Wiggins, 29, Elizabeth Jane Smallwood, 33, and Christine Marie Boone, 43, were found in Rocky Mount and Scotland Neck.
All of the bodies were found near homes and sites where Pittman lived. According to a search warrant, he was also seen near where Hargrove's body was found the same day she was last seen.
Crews have previously searched in a 1-mile radius of where each body was found, but the latest search is the first massive search of the entire areas, Knight said.
"Do we anticipate further charges?" Sallenger said. "We don’t anticipate any further charges against him. There has been no proof shown to us that our client is guilty of any offense."