At trial last month, Steven “Bear” Fort was acquitted of murder and armed robbery. The verdict, however, did not set him free.
Fort had faced 10 criminal allegations in the August 2015 slaying of a south Macon man named Javoris Butler. Butler, 29, a father of four and a known marijuana peddler, was gunned down on a summer night in front of some of his kids. He was also robbed of the child-size book bag where he stashed cash and weed.
But eyewitness accounts of the bloodshed were sketchy. The killer wore a mask. Some who saw the shooter, his pistol fire blasting in the dark at Pendleton Homes off Houston Avenue, at first identified him as someone else, not Fort.
So in late January at the end of a four-day trial, after deliberating for much of a Friday afternoon, a Bibb County jury of nine women and three men all but exonerated Fort. They found him guilty of one crime.
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Prosecutors in the case said Fort, sweaty and toting a book bag, had forced a young woman to drive him away from Pendleton Homes in the moments after the shooting. The jurors agreed and convicted the 22-year-old Fort of kidnapping, for which he faced the possibility of up to 20 years behind bars.
While the jurors declared Fort not guilty killing of Butler, who was slain half a block or so from the kidnapping, they also acquitted Fort of shooting and wounding another man. That man was shot at the scene of Butler’s ambush-robbery, which happened in what is known as “the bottom” at the sprawling World War II-era Pendleton Homes complex.
After the verdict on Jan. 26, Fort, who has been in jail since his arrest in September 2015, was taken back to the Bibb lockup to await sentencing this week. But on Saturday, jailers allegedly caught Fort with a contraband cellphone. Authorities also said Fort had used social media from behind bars. Facebook, though, was not his friend.
In recent days, posts on Fort’s account — where he goes by the handle “Bear Lo” — have included a plea for friends to write letters on his behalf for the judge in his case to read in advance of Fort’s sentencing on the kidnapping conviction.
A “Bear Lo” post, which appeared on the evening of Feb. 6, begins:
Well the judge want to know what kind of person I am. … The prosecuter (sic) paints a picture of me being a heartless criminal who doesn’t belong in society by any means. … Anybody who actually know me knows that not my character. … So if you know how I rock … help me get out of here.
The post has been shared more than 50 times. It concludes:
Let’s not forget I was found not guilty on 9 out 10 charges. … It’s a conspiracy. … They just couldn’t let me go they was so mad. #innocent
The next evening, Fort apparently added a comment beneath the post, which noted that “I don’t have a criminal history what so ever. … I was a productive citizen before I was falsely accused.”
The response to his online request was underwhelming. Ten or so replies to the post included messages like “Free You” and “get ready for them letters.” One commenter told him, “Check nbox cuzzo.”
In Bibb Superior Court on Tuesday, Judge Howard Z. Simms was not impressed with Fort’s apparent Facebook handiwork.
As Fort stood before the judge, Fort apologized to the kidnapped woman for “putting her in a state of fear” and said he now put “everything in God’s hands.”
Simms read portions of the Facebook post aloud and declared some of its language “incongruous.” Then the judge spoke of Fort’s bigger troubles: terrifying the woman he kidnapped.
“There is a perception that a lot of people have of this community, of crime. … There are people,” Simms said, “who live close to here that won’t even come here. … They’re afraid they’re gonna get robbed, they’re gonna get shot, they’re gonna get kidnapped. … You’re why. You’re one of the reasons.”
The judge recounted Fort’s crime and said he found nothing redeeming in Fort’s actions.
“Not one syllable,” Simms said.
He sentenced Fort to the maximum: 20 years in prison.
The handcuffed-and-shackled Fort sashayed seven steps toward waiting bailiffs.
Fort stopped and stared back across the courtroom, catching the gaze of prosecutor Nancy Scott Malcor and sheriff’s investigator Michael Wilson, who had helped put him away.
Fort shot the pair a smirking glare masked with a grin, and then he was gone.