BELTON — A Bell County jury late Friday found a man and a woman each guilty of killing a 38-year-old man in north Killeen in 2017, an official said.
The jury deliberated 6 hours and 45 minutes before finding Erica Lane Brownlee, 20, and James Tyshawn Pinkard, 23, each guilty of killing Rocky Wayne Marsh on March 7, 2017.
Judge John Gauntt, who presides over the 27th Judicial District Court, next is charged with deciding their punishment, which could range from 5 to 99 years in prison, or life without parole, said Assistant District Attorney Mike Waldman.
Sentencing is slated for March 6, he said.
Shamar Lamar Lewis, 19, also is charged with first-degree murder in the case and will be tried separately. Lewis is listed in the Bell County Jail with a $700,000 bond.
Elijah Jones, 18, was a 16-year-old gang member when he got in the car with Brownlee, Pinkard and Lewis to find Marsh with the intention of beating and robbing him. Jones pleaded guilty eight months ago and was sentenced to 30 years in prison, according to court testimony.
The jury of one man and 11 women on Thursday and Friday saw and heard a profanity-laden argument between Pinkard and Marsh on the night of the murder. The video was from the Texan Mart on Bundrant Drive.
Pinkard, crowbar in hand, is heard accusing Marsh of taking a photo of his car and threatening Marsh for getting too close to his “baby mama.” Brownlee was 7 months pregnant at the time with Pinkard’s child.
“You better get your (expletive) outta here; you better watch out, bro,” Pinkard said to Marsh. “You don’t know whose streets you’re on ... you better be here when I get back. You won’t believe how many people are going to be here.”
Marsh responded, “I won’t be here.”
Pinkard and Brownlee drove away and Marsh went inside and purchased a drink before walking away down the street. Fourteen minutes later in the video, Pinkard’s car could be seen heading the same direction as Marsh had walked.
Killeen Police Department Detective Sharon Brank said Lewis admitted to stabbing Marsh with a screwdriver and hitting him on top of his head with a handsaw. The wounds on Marsh’s body matched the bloody screwdriver found in Pinkard’s car and the handsaw found at the scene, she said.
She said that the Long Branch Posse street gang “hangs out” in the area where the convenience store is located, and that Lewis, with the street name “Savage,” was a member. Several men at the store, including Lewis and Jones, were wearing orange, the gang’s color.
Pinkard and Brownlee each waived their right to testify on Thursday and both the defense and state rested their cases.
Family and friends of both Marsh and defendants Brownlee and Pinkard were in the 27th Judicial District Court to hear closing arguments from all six attorneys involved in the trial.
Waldman placed a photo of the victim, Rocky Wayne Marsh, sporting a big smile, on the projector screen in front of the jury. Then he placed a different photo of Marsh on the screen, of his body splayed on the asphalt of the parking lot at Morgan Manor Apartments, pockets turned inside out. Red and blue lights surround him in the night and an officer kneels over his body.
“That man can’t get up anymore,” Waldman said. “You can give him a voice.”
Much of the defense arguments concerned the reliability of testimony by Jones during the trial. Attorneys also questioned whether Brownlee and Pinkard could be considered “parties” to the crime and guilty of a murder that Lewis pleaded guilty to.
Defense attorneys Joel M. Lowry and Robert O. Harris each tried to distance Brownlee, their client, from the crime.
“Erica was not a party (to the crime), she was just driving the car, merely present,” Lowry told the jury in his closing argument. He said that Brownlee had just recently moved to Killeen and did not really know the people she was with.
Representing Pinkard, defense attorneys Steve Duskie and David Fernandez questioned whether there was enough corroborating evidence of the involvement of Brownlee and Pinkard aside from Jones’s testimony as an accomplice.
“His testimony was unreliable, inconsistent and unbelievable; he couldn’t keep his story straight,” Duskie said. “There is no DNA evidence proving Pinkard is criminally responsible, and no evidence linking him to the robbery and no witnesses besides Jones.”
The state took a blunt approach.
“Rocky Marsh is dead,” said Assistant District Attorney Cristin Lane. “He died a very brutal death, after buying a beer and heading home to mind his own business. Shamar Lewis drove a screwdriver through his heart.”
Lane tried to draw a distinction between the defendants’ polished appearance in the courtroom and their actions on that March night almost two years ago.
“Erica Brownlee is a sweet-looking young lady, but she is not stupid,” she said. “She knew what they were going to do” when they went to pick up gang members Lewis and Jones after the argument between Pinkard and Marsh at the Texan Mart. “She said, ‘There he is,’ and sealed his fate. It all started with an argument over something stupid.”
Lane referred to photo evidence shown to the jury of Pinkard throwing gang signs and hanging out with known gang members.
“Pinkard is not the young person you see in a suit and tie today,” she said. “They both aided, abetted and helped commit this murder.”
Waldman, in his rebuttal to the defense team’s closing arguments, attempted to convince the jury that Brownlee and Pinkard were responsible even though they did not wield the screwdriver or saw.
“Pinkard wielded Savage like a weapon. They went after a man at night and pull weapons out of the trunk of a car, what did they think was going to happen?” Waldman asked, rhetorically. “Brownlee popped the trunk to give them access to the weapons.”
He re-played the video of Pinkard’s verbal threats and reminded the jury of other evidence.
“You have DNA on the inside and outside of the car, weapons, video of the altercation and 14 minutes later the 911 call,” he said. “Jones pleaded guilty as a party because he was there to be added muscle if things got out of hand, and he was sentenced. If he was a party, how are they not?”