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Carter County attempted murder trial underway in Jonesborough

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 28, 2019 at 10:02 PM

Jury selection in an attempted first-degree murder trial went quickly in Jonesborough Monday for a Carter County case that had been moved due to the amount of publicity on the case.

Kelly Pitts, 39, faces seven counts of attempted first-degree murder and seven counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a deadly weapon. The incident happened on Dry Hollow Road in Carter County around 8:45 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2015. Due to the number of charges — and some of the victims — Judge Stacy Street granted a defense motion to try the case in Washington County.

Four of the victims in the case were Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford and three of his deputies, including Deputy Jena Markland, who was shot in the face, as well as Pitts’ girlfriend and other relatives of hers.

Opening Statements

Assistant District Attorney Dennis Brooks gave the jury a timeline of events that led the sheriff’s office to Pitts’ residence at 434 Dry Hollow Road. He told the panel they would hear witnesses describe how Pitts pointed a gun at his girlfriend of 17 years, Brandy Hyder, after he had been drinking most of the day. 

“As you listen to the facts, we’re going to ask you to pay special attention to those events leading up to Kelly Pitts using two different firearms,” Brooks said. In addition to Pitts and Hyder, five others were staying at the Dry Hollow Road residence with them — Brandy’s brother Jack Hyder, his wife and their three children.

Brooks said Pitts didn’t like the arrangement, which was only supposed to be for a weekend, but had turned into two weeks. It all boiled over that night after Pitts had been drinking and used Suboxone. After Brandy Hyder found her boyfriend with a gun in his mouth, they got into a scuffle over the weapon. Brandy Hyder was able to get it away, but Pitts pulled out a handgun and put it to his girlfriend’s head.

The commotion caught the attention of Jack Hyder and his brother-in-law, Greg Hardin, who were outside burning trash. Michael Hyder, father of Brandy and Jack, also showed up from his home across the street and called 911. Lunceford was the first to arrive because he was nearby. As he was talking to Michael Hyder, two marked cruisers pulled up and almost immediately Pitts began shooting at them.

Brooks said the jury would hear the dispatch and radio traffic during the trial and hear Markland say she’d been hit. Brandy Hyder was also hit during the gunfire. Lunceford was the only officer to return fire and he only fired his shotgun once.

Defense attorney, Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, told the jury during her opening statements that the defense would agree with 90 percent of the state’s evidence.

“It is what it is,” Sellers said. She told the jury Markland suffered a serious injury and her story needed to be heard. She said Lunceford had a story and his needed to be heard. But she also said Pitts has a story and his needs to be heard as well. She told the panel they would hear lots of evidence about projectory, ammunition, guns, magazines ... time periods and lots of different things. But this case isn’t really about that.

This case is about people ... honest to goodness human beings, and people are complicated.”

She described her client as being addicted to drugs, alcohol and pain pills for years while living in North Carolina. When he moved to Carter County, he began going to a Suboxone clinic for treatment. But instead of getting off drugs, the Suboxone became a substitute for all the other drugs he’s been addicted to during his life.

“Suboxone make him feel like Superman. It made him feel super normal, like he could do anything,” she said. It was to the point that Pitts would do anything to get the drug, but on Dec. 16, 2015, Pitts couldn’t get the Suboxone any more.

“Instead of feeling like Superman, he felt like Superman with a chain of kryptonite around his neck,” she said. “He will tell you ... it’s terrible. You’re sick. you’re ill, you can’t stand it.”

Sellers told the panel the proof would show “Mr. Pitts did not premeditate anything. But because of the drugs he was incapable of premeditating anything. He was in a frenzy and he had a really really bad day and unfortunately that caused Jena Markland serious bodily injury.”

Witnesses

Michael Hyder testified about Greg Hardin telling him about the fracas at the mobile home  across the street. He went there to find his daughter upset and crying and saying that Pitts was swinging a gun around and acting crazy. He was the one who called 911 and greeted Lunceford at the bottom of his driveway. As they were talking, Lunceford got his protective vest and a shotgun from his trunk. When two police cruisers pulled up, someone started shooting rapid fire from the mobile home .

Brandy Hyder tearfully testified about how she found her boyfriend with the end of an AK-47 in his mouth and how she kicked it away. That only enraged Pitts and he pulled out a handgun and began pointing it at her, then at himself and saying, ”Which one bitch? You or me?”

After officers arrived, she said she told them ‘Don’t kill him. He’s not in his right mind,’” she testified. She also said she had never seen Pitts act the way he did that night and he had never pointed a weapon at her.

Lunceford testified about a “barrage” of gunfire that sent him ducking for cover behind his vehicle. He said bullets were ricocheting off his car and the road. The sheriff testified there were more than 20 but less than 30 shots fired in rapid succession, then a pause and another barrage of shooting. After that stopped, he said he stood up and fired one round from his shotgun.

The sheriff saw that Markland had been hit and ran to her aid. Michael Hyder yelled down the hill that Brandy Hyder was shot and Lunceford told Hyder to drive down and get the women to an ambulance further down the road.

Other witnesses included Jack Hyder and Larry Hyder. Larry Hyder lived nearby but wasn’t home at the time. He arrived home to find Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents searching his property and aided them in finding several bullet holes in his garage. The bullets had damaged several things inside the garage, including a brand new truck.

Street ended the trial around 5:30 p.m. The trial will resume Tuesday when the courthouse opens at 10 a.m.

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