HED: Gates murder trial begins in Oxford
By Jane Hill
OXFORD – The first day of the capital murder trial of Tim Gates, a Tula man accused of murdering Lafayette County High School student James Scott Patterson, closed with special prosecutor Larry Little playing a taped confession Gates made to law enforcement officials two days after the murder.
The prosecution’s case opened Tuesday with the testimony of Jason Gossett, a friend of Patterson’s who also was shot during the Dec. 1, 1994, incident.
Prosecutors are attempting to prove that Gates murdered Patterson and shot Gossett because he was planning to rob them. When a murder occurs during the commission of a felony, the state can seek the death penalty or life without parole.
The state is seeking the death penalty against Gates.
Little said he plans to build the prosecution’s case on three statements Gates made to law enforcement officials in the two days after the murder took place in rural southeastern Lafayette County.
The first confession was made on the morning of Dec. 2, another was made in the presence of Gates’ father and stepmother in addition to law enforcement officials, and a third was made on the afternoon of Dec. 3 to Mississippi Highway Patrol Investigator David Shaw and Lafayette County Sheriff Buddy East.
It was the third confession that Little played to the jury Tuesday.
The state plans to prove that Gates shot Patterson though the back window of Patterson’s 1993 Pontiac Sunbird with a 12-gauge shotgun and then shot Gossett after he jumped out of the car and attempted to flee up the road.
Gossett said he pretended to be dead when the shooter came up behind him and took his wallet from his back pocket so that he would not be shot again.
Once the shooter left, Gossett went to a nearby house to ask for help.
The defense’s case
Defense attorney Joey Langston said he plans to prove that Gates did not shoot Patterson and Gossett and that the three statements that law enforcement officers took from Gates are, in fact, false confessions gained while Gates was withdrawing from heavy alcohol and prescription drug abuse.
“These statements that have been styled as confessions are false confessions made while he (Gates) was in withdrawal from drug and alcohol addiction and was needing help,” Langston said.
Langston noted Gossett could not identify Gates as the man who shot him and in fact likened the shooter to a sheriff’s deputy much larger than Gates.
“He said the man that attacked him was the same size as Lafayette County Deputy Terry Prestige, who is four or five inches taller and about 50 pounds heavier than my client,” Langston said.
Lab analysis of physical evidence found at the scene – an empty beer can, two spent shotgun shells, a black flashlight and prints of a waterproof boot – have failed to tie any of the objects to Gates, Langston said.
In cross-examination of the sheriff, Langston pointed out the wallet that Gates was supposed to have taken off Gossett was never recovered at the crime scene or at the camper/trailer where Gates was arrested.
Numerous photographs and diagrams of the crime scene, as well as the physical evidence found at the scene, were presented Tuesday afternoon while several jury members showed signs of drowsiness in the heat of the closed courtroom.
But proceedings picked up and jurors perked up at the close of the day when Little played the tape of Gates talking with East and Shaw on Dec. 3.
His voice thick with tears, Gates spoke of “trying to work things out” with his girlfriend then driving around the deer hunting club near Lafayette County Road 444 where the murder took place, “drinking and taking pills and stuff.”
Gates said he then saw the bright red sports car drive by with the two young men in it.
“I didn’t have any money left and I was thinking about money … They come out and I shot in the car. It rolled across the road and I went over there and another one jumped out of the car and ran down the road and I shot him.”
Little will continue to question Shaw today about the taped confession and Langston will have the opportunity to cross examine the witness. Little said the prosecution has five more witnesses to call. The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m.