Jury rules manslaughter

Published 6:00 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

After nearly three hours of deliberationThursday, a Lincoln County jury found Ahmad Butler guilty ofmanslaughter in the June 2010 death of a McComb man.

    Butler, of 920 Chickasaw St., was given the maximum sentence byJudge Michael Taylor of 20 years to be served consecutively withButler’s six-year sentence for the sale of narcotics.

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    Butler was accused of murder in the death Anthony Nichols, 21, onJune 17, 2010. Nichols died of a single gunshot to the head duringan incident at a Brookhaven convenience store.

    The jury heard two days of testimony in the case.

    “The jury worked long and hard, and I think they did a good job,”District Attorney Dee Bates said. “We’re pleased with the verdict,and I think the judge made a good decision (on the sentencing)based on the circumstances.”

    Butler’s co-counsel M.A. Bass said he and lead counsel JasonBarrett were displeased with the verdict.

    “Even though we do not agree with the jury’s verdict, we have toaccept it,” he said. “We extend our sympathies to the family ofAnthony Nichols. We certainly understand the loss there, but thisis a case where both families lose.”

    In the state’s closing argument, Bates suggested to the jury therewere certain facts that could not be denied: Nichols was killed bygunshot at close range that night in June last summer, he waskilled by a .25 caliber gun in the SUV with his friends at theHappy Time convenience store, and that contacts with a numberbelonging to Butler were made with Nichols’ phone that led thegroup to meet an individual – who was undeniably Butler – in theparking lot of the store.

    Bates and Assistant District Attorney Diane Jones also proposed anargument for the misidentification of the suspect by Nichols’friends.

    They maintained that when a person does not know an individualwell, it is difficult to identify them by just a photograph. But inopen court, with the defendant present, all witnesses identifiedButler as the killer.

    The state also explained that Butler’s defense of an alibi was notestablished. A witness for the defense said she saw Butler thenight before he was arrested, but could not specify a time or adate. Jones said a specific “when” and “where” is essential inestablishing an alibi.

    The defense’s argument was centered around the fact that witnessesin the car with Nichols could not initially identify Butler as themurderer.

    Barrett maintained the witnesses were high on drugs already whenthey went to purchase, and that some lied to police in initialinterviews. He presented the established fact that all witnesses inthe car heard one shot, yet Assistant Police Chief Bobby Bell foundthree shell casings. And he reiterated a Happy Time employee’stestimony that she never heard shots while she was working thatnight, and that she never knew there had been a shooting untillater that night after her shift ended.

    Bass said the state had all the ingredients in their case formurder, except that they had the wrong person accused.

    Butler could face additional legal trouble.

    While being held on the murder charge, Butler escaped the LincolnCounty jail along with five other inmates and fled to New Orleanslast September. They were apprehended Sept. 29, 2010, by LincolnCounty deputies and brought back to Brookhaven.

    Butler has not been indicted yet for any charges stemming from theescape, Bass said following the trial’s conclusion.

    Bates said the tragic death last June and this week’s trial werethe result of drugs.

    He said it was an all-around terrible situation for both sides thatstarted with narcotics. The victim, along with his friends in thecar he was shot in, did arrange to buy drugs that night.

    “I just wish people would realize how dangerous it is,” he said.”If they did, maybe we wouldn’t have things like this happen. It’stragic for both these families. A vast majority of my cases aredrug-related cases, and there’s just no need for it.”