Johnson City Press: State and defense rest cases in 2015 Carter County officer's shooting

State and defense rest cases in 2015 Carter County officer's shooting

Becky Campbell • Updated Jan 30, 2019 at 11:59 PM

Jurors will have three days of testimony and evidence to look at, examine and consider — including testimony Wednesday from the defendant who described a lifetime of drug and alcohol use leading up to the night he fired 52 semi-automatic rifle rounds toward sheriff’s deputies — when they begin deliberation Thursday morning.

Kelly Lee Pitts, 39, took the stand Wednesday in his own defense and told the jury he wasn’t sure he was shooting at law enforcement in 2015 after having arguments with Brandy Hyder, his girlfriend at the time, and her brother, Jack Hyder.

Pitts said he actually thought it was some of Jack Hyder’s friends who were at the top of his driveway. Instead, it was Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford, three of his deputies and several private citizens.

Pitts went to trial this week on seven counts of attempted first-degree murder and seven counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony. The incident happened Dec. 16, 2015, and two people were shot — Carter County Sheriff’s Deputy Jenna Markland in the face, and Brandy Hyder in the hand.

On Wednesday, jurors heard the audio recording Pitts gave to TBI Agent Scott Lott at 4 a.m. Dec. 17, 2015, after the shooting had occurred around 8:45 p.m. the previous day. In the interview, Lott asked Pitts what he had taken or drank and if he felt intoxicated. Pitts said he didn’t feel drunk, but after comparing his voice and language to how he testified, there was a marked difference.

Pitts told the jury that he only had bits and pieces of memory from Dec. 15 and 16, 2015, and that he had been drinking and taking Xanax with Jack Hyder.

“When the beer run out I was going to the store. I remember taking a Xanax before I left or going down the road,” Pitts said. He swallowed that pill, but later snorted some. The beer Pitts drank were 24-ounce tall-boy beers, according to earlier testimony in the trial.

“I bought three or four more beers. I know I took a pill ’cause on the way back up Dry Hollow Road ’cause I almost ran out of the road. After that, everything got fuzzy,” he said. Events in that “fuzzy” time frame included arguing  with his girlfriend. She had testified earlier in the trial that she went into their bedroom and Pitts had the barrel end of an AK47 in his mouth and she wrestled it away from him. He later testified that he was cleaning the gun when she and her brother came into the room.

He said didn’t remember doing the things Brandy had testified about, including breaking a fan and other items in the bedroom.

“I remember pulling out the .22 pistol because her and her brother were trying to take the (AK47) away from me,” Pitts told the jury. “Jack had a gun and I think he pulled it out. I seen Jack with a gun and I’m thinking they’re going to shoot me. Between the alcohol and drugs, I’m fearing for my life.”

“They leave. ... I don’t know where they went. I heard Brandy say ‘Come out or they’re going to shoot you.’ I was scared to death. I guess I put the clip in the gun and started shooting out the window. I shot into the ground ... I guess I shot all around up in the air; It’s not real clear,” he testified.

Trial Day 1: The Scene

Witnesses on Monday included:

• Michael Hyder, father of Brandy and Jack Hyder;

• Brandy Hyder, Pitts’ girlfriend of 17 years at the time;

• Larry Hyder, a neighbor and relative;

• Jack Hyder, brother of Brandy Hyder;

• Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford

Day 2, The Scene and Science

Witnesses on Tuesday included:

• Greg Hardin, brother of Jack Hyder’s girlfriend;

• Jason Mosier, a former Carter County sheriff’s deputy now employed with Elizabethton Police Department;

• Sgt. David Caldwell, Carter County sheriff’s deputy and training officer for Deputy Jenna Marklandl;

• Deputy Jenna Markland;

• Lt. Michael Bean, Carter County sheriff’s officer;

• Capt. Patrick Johnson, Carter County sheriff’s officer and SWAT team leader;

• Lt. Larry Vaughn, Carter County sheriff’s officer and SWAT team member who breached the trailer;

• TBI Agent Michael Bleakley, team leader for the violent crime team that headed up evidence collection;

• TBI Agent Michael Tiller, member of the violent crime team who assisted with evidence collection; and

• TBI Agent Teri Arney, a firearms expert who ran weapons tests on bullet fragments, casings and the two semi-automatic rifles found at the scene.

Day 3, The Defense

The state’s last witness was TBI Agent Scott Lott.

Defense witnesses on Wednesday included:

• Franchesca Shoun, a part-time nurse practitioner for the Carter County Detention Center;

• Sgt. Brian McGinnis, Carter County Detention Center officer who conducted a drug screening on Pitts that showed positive for benzodiazepines, suboxone and marijuana;

• Kelly PItts, the defendant;

• Brandy Hyder, who was recalled to the stand to corroborate part of Pitts’ testimony that TBI investigators had overlooked two gun magazines that had ammunition. Hyder said she didn’t think investigators needed the evidence because they had left it there and she sold them at a pawn shop; and

• Dr. Jonathan Lipman, a neuropharmacologist who testified about the cumulative effect of alcohol and Xanax and how the amounts Pitts consumed would have affected his ability to reason.

The day ended with closing arguments and Judge Stacy Street reading jury instructions to the panel. Jurors will return Thursday to begin deliberation. 

Be sure to read Friday’s edition for details from closing arguments from Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks and Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers.

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