HED: Stites pleads guilty, given life without parole in Tutor murder case
DECK: Co-defendant Mahan’s trial set for August
By Jane Hill
PONTOTOC – Instead of waiting for the selection of a Panola County jury to try him Monday on capital murder charges, Ashley Ray Stites was sitting in the Pontotoc County Jail awaiting transportation to Parchman Penitentiary to begin serving a sentence of life without parole.
Three days before the 29-year-old Stites was to face trial for the Jan. 29, 1995, beating death of 18-year-old Cindy Tutor, he pleaded guilty to all three charges against him.
District Attorney John Young said Monday that Stites pleaded guilty to capital murder, armed robbery and burglary and larceny of a commercial building. Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Gardner III accepted the pleas and gave Stites a life without parole sentence on the murder charge, a 30-year sentence on the armed robbery charge and a 7-year sentence on the burglary and larceny charge.
Young said the sentences are to run consecutively. Stites’ request to plead to the charges was accepted by the district attorney’s office with the consent of the Tutor family, Young said.
“They (Tutor family) wanted to get it over with,” Young said. “There are so many things that can cause a death penalty case to be tried and retried and drawn out and appealed that they didn’t want to go through that if it would be certain that this man would never be paroled.”
Stites’ defense began to make overtures about pleading guilty to all charges Thursday and a plea bargain was finally worked out late Friday afternoon, Young said.
Young said he had planned to pursue the death penalty against Stites and co-defendant Sherry Lynn Mahan, 21, of Ecru. Stites was living with Mahan at the time of Tutor’s slaying.
The two were arrested Jan. 30, 1995, the day Tutor’s body was discovered in the trunk of her white Ford Mustang on a north Pontotoc County road. Stites and Mahan were accused of beating the Randolph community woman to death with a tire iron, taking her keys to the Dollar General Store in Pontotoc and stealing about $4,500 from the store safe.
Pontotoc County Circuit Clerk Tracy Robinson said Mahan’s trial has been continued to Aug. 6. Mahan faces the same charges of capital murder, armed robbery and burglary and larceny of a commercial building, Robinson said.
Young said he plans to continue to pursue a vigorous prosecution of Mahan and does plan to seek the death penalty in her case as well.
Though Mahan’s attorney’s have not yet been granted a change of venue for the trial, Young said he does not doubt they will seek one. Stites was to have been tried by a jury chosen in Panola County and sequestered in Pontotoc for the duration of the trial.
Pontotoc County Sheriff Randy Roberts said Stites will likely be transported to Parchman the latter part of this week.