By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — A murder suspect changed his plea to guilty while a jury deliberated his fate Friday afternoon in Clayton County Superior Court.
Judge Albert Collier sentenced James Bertrum Hightower, 25, to life in prison with the possibility of parole for his role in the August 2011 shooting death of a store clerk. Hightower pleaded guilty to one count of felony murder in the death of Moe's Beer, Wine and Tobacco Outlet clerk Deon Causey. Hightower was also shot during the robbery and a second clerk was injured.
He was the only one of three defendants in the case to go to trial. Sheldon Emory Brown, 25, and Otis Jamal Parker, 23, already pleaded guilty to armed robbery and murder and were sentenced to life in prison.
Clayton County police Detective Randy Brashears took the stand in the state's case Wednesday. He testified to finding Hightower laying on the ground after he'd dragged himself through the store.
"The store was in shambles," said Brashears. "There were four or five firearms. There was alcohol poured across the floor, lots of blood stains where he'd dragged across the tiling. Bullets were flying everywhere inside that store and they hit the beer coolers, shattering glass."
Brown and Parker fled the scene but Hightower was injured.
"He wasn't able to use his leg to flee from the scene," said Brashears. "And he'd dropped his snub-nosed revolver."
Police said Hightower pulled $445 from the cash register before being shot. That money was recovered. Police said the trio robbed the store to get money to celebrate Parker's 22nd birthday.
The case was prosecuted by Executive Assistant District Attorney Jason Green and co-counsel Jamanda Turner. Assisting with the trial was third-year law student Philip Curtis.