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Tommy Jason Strayhorn was standing outside a friend’s Newport News home one Friday night in 2016 when an acquaintance pulled out a gun and ordered him to turn over his Gucci bag.
The man thought it was filled with cash.
“Are you really going to do this?” Strayhorn asked, according to witnesses at a jury trial this week.
“Straight headshots,” the man, James Curtis Miles, replied.
Strayhorn put down the bag, but resisted when Miles — and eventually two other men with guns — demanded more money.
Stayhorn turned to run inside.
A prosecutor said that’s when the three robbers — all men Strayhorn knew — each began shooting at him.
Miles grabbed the Gucci bag as the robbers fled.
Strayhorn, a 42-year-old father of two, was struck in the head and neck in the shooting on Randolph Road, just off of Jefferson Avenue, on Nov. 25, 2016. He died three days later.
Miles, now 37; his brother, Kardara Miles, 34; and Marqui Rashawn Pittman, 32, were all charged in the killing.
After a three-day trial in Newport News Circuit Court this week, a 12-member jury found Pittman guilty of first-degree murder, robbery and two gun charges.
James Miles goes to trial on Jan. 4 while Kardara Miles’ trial is slated for March 2.
Molly Newton, a prosecutor with the Virginia attorney general’s office, told jurors this week that all three men were equally culpable for the crime.
Though a witness said that Pittman didn’t walk up until after the robbery began, another witness said the three men to the apartment complex together in a silver van.
Newton contended that Pittman knew the robbery was going to happen. Before the shooting, she said, Pittman told Strayhorn that “I told you we were going to get you.”
Police found six shell casings at the scene. They also found five spent bullets — one in Strayhorn and four in the home’s doorway and stairwell.
The guns were never recovered, and investigators don’t know who fired the fatal shot. But Newton told jurors that’s irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter whose bullet pierced Tommy Strayhorn’s head,” she said, contending that that all three men are culpable.
“He took Tommy Strayhorn’s life,” Newton said of Pittman. “He took something far more valuable than a Gucci bag.”
That bag was never recovered. Evidence showed Strayhorn still had $500 in his wallet when he died.
Two men testified to witnessing the shooting. One said Pittman was one of three shooters, while the other said he saw Pittman holding a gun after the shooting, but didn’t see him fire.
Pittman’s attorney, Timothy Clancy, highlighted that witness, who said he saw Pittman holding his weapon to the ground “when it was all over.”
“When it was all over,” Clancy emphasized to jurors in his closing argument Thursday.
Clancy also pointed out that a woman who looked out her window after hearing the shots saw two men fleeing before she acknowledged that it could have been three.
Clancy also asserted that not all crucial evidence was tested.
At trial, a police forensics technician testified that the Virginia Department of Forensic Science limits how much evidence police agencies can have tested. That’s why the shell casings weren’t submitted for DNA testing to determine who might have loaded the guns.
But Newton countered in her closing argument that it’s merely like missing a few small pieces of a much larger puzzle. “You know what the missing pieces look like,” she said. “You know what the big picture is.”
The jury deliberated for about three hours Thursday before finding Pittman guilty of all charges. He will be sentenced in May.
Strayhorn’s mother, Carolyn Peppers, said he grew up in southeast Newport News and had two daughters, now ages 23 and 7.
“He was a good son,” she said. “He left my residence that night, and told me he’d be back.”
Peter Dujardin, 757-247-4749, firstname.lastname@example.org