TUPELO – Two of the three men charged with the 2007 capital murder of Travis Brown pleaded guilty to lesser charges Thursday.
The third, Christopher Hughes, must prepare for a May 11 trial, exactly two years after the 27-year-old Brown was fatally shot in what police termed an armed robbery gone bad.
Jason Matthews, 25, and co-defendant James Knowles, 21, entered guilty pleas before Circuit Judge Thomas Gardner.
Matthews pleaded guilty to the charge of accessory after the fact of attempted robbery, which related to his lying to investigators about a gun alleged to have been used in the crime.
He was sentenced to five years in prison, with credit for the nearly two years he’s served in the Lee County Jail. He also will be required to pay a $1,000 fine and a $100 fine to the Mississippi Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
Knowles was sentenced to 30 years, with 10 suspended, on an attempted armed robbery charge and another 20 years for manslaughter. The prison terms will run consecutively.
Gardner also ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine, a $4,500 fee to reimburse Brown’s funeral expenses to the crime victims fund and $911.60 to Brown’s mother for the rest of funeral costs.
Both men secured their plea agreements with promises to testify against Hughes, if he goes to trial.
Prosecutor Heather Joyner said that if they are not truthful, the capital murder charges can be reinstated against them.
Capital murder is a charge used when a murder occurs during the commission of another crime. In this case, that’s accusation of a conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
Hughes, 24, has pleaded not guilty to an indictment by a Lee County grand jury.
Hughes’ attorneys, Lori Basham and Bryan Petty, presented several dozen pretrial motions to Gardner, most notably to take the death penalty off the table and to move the trial from Lee County. The judge denied both.
Matthews, Knowles, Hughes and three others were arrested and charged in May 2007 in connection with Brown’s shooting death at a Magnolia Street residence. Brown was shot in the stomach after answering a knock at the door.
In court Thursday, Matthews insisted he was at work and not with the other suspects at the time of the shooting. He admitted the gun used in the crime was his, but said it was taken from his hotel room.
Knowles told Gardner he was a part of an initial plan to rob the occupant of the house, but said he was carrying a sledgehammer and did not pull the trigger.
Much like Matthews and Knowles, whose cases were presented Thursday morning, Hughes sat quietly for hours at the front of the courtroom after noon. Each was dressed in a white and red prison jumpsuit, and handcuffed and shackled.
While being helped into a county transport vehicle back to the jail, Matthews used the opportunity to speak.
“I had to do the right things,” he said. “I just had to tell the truth.
Danza Johnson/Daily Journal