If you witness a crime, here’s what to do
Earlier this week, a Macon teenager stood before a judge and rejected a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for at least 30 years. Now, his fate is in limbo.
In the balance were a range of decades up to more than a half-century behind bars or, possibly, a chance at walking free.
Aurie Ammah Mathis had been 16 in the summer of 2017 when he allegedly shot and killed his uncle, the teen’s alleged parter-in-crime, as they were about to make their getaway with a woman’s television set after burglarizing her home, police said.
The authorities say that as the uncle, James Robert Young Jr., was toting away the TV, the woman yelled. It was then, cops have said, that Mathis fired a single shot from a 40-caliber Glock toward the woman. The bullet instead struck his uncle, who happened to step into its path.
Shot in the head, Young, 41, who was on parole for burglary, fell dead in the woman’s doorway. The television dropped nearby.
Mathis, who turned 18 in January, was said to have driven off in the car he and Young were riding in that day. He has been in jail since his arrest in the weeks after the June 19, 2017, shooting.
The fatal encounter happened on Bradstone Circle, off Millerfield Road a half-mile or so from Bowden Golf Course on Macon’s east side.
A decision to make
On Tuesday, on the eve of Mathis’ murder trial in Bibb County Superior Court, Judge Howard Z. Simms explained to Mathis the seriousness of the charges against him, along with potential punishments Mathis faces if convicted.
Prosecutors, however, offered Mathis a deal: Plead guilty to murder in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, but with the possibility of parole. In Georgia, that means serving a mandatory 30-year stretch in a state penitentiary before becoming eligible to be released.
Counting the time he has already served while awaiting trial, Mathis, were he to take the deal, would at the earliest be in his late 40s before becoming a free man.
Because he was 16 at the time of the killing, Mathis can’t face the stiffest penalty: life without parole.
But were he to go to trial, prosecutors would also pursue a burglary charge against him which could — were he found guilty of it and depending on the judge’s discretion — tack on an additional 20-year maximum to the mandatory 30-year murder charge if a jury convicted Mathis.
So in court Tuesday afternoon, Mathis had a decision to make.
Judge Simms laid out the possibilities for Mathis once more.
“Son, if you got convicted of everything in this indictment, you could be looking at a possible sentence ... of life in the penitentiary plus 20 years to serve after that,” Simms said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” Mathis said.
Prosecutor Dorothy Hull went over the plea offer.
The judge asked Mathis if he understood.
Mathis said he did.
“They’re taking that other 20 years (for burglary) off the table if you want to plead guilty,” Simms said. “What do you want to do?”
“No sir,” Mathis replied, apparently mishearing the question.
“No sir, what?” the judge asked.
“I don’t want to take the plea,” Mathis said.
“OK,” the judge said, “we’ll pick a jury for your case in the morning and get started.”
On Wednesday afternoon, a jury of eight men and four women heard opening statements in the case.
Mathis’ defense attorney, Melvin Raines, told jurors to consider the doubts he intended to raise about whether Mathis had even been at the crime scene.
Raines said Mathis’ parents have said it wasn’t common for Mathis to even be up at the time of day when the killing happened — shortly after 9:30 a.m. — because Mathis played video games all night.
Raines also suggested eyewitness testimony, including that of the woman at the house who saw both intruders, wouldn’t be reliable. Raines said Mathis’ alibi would show that he wasn’t even there.
But prosecutor Hull, in her opening remarks to the jury, said the police found Mathis’ fingerprint inside the woman’s house, and said that Mathis had shown up at his aunt’s house in the moments after the shooting and said, “Uncle’s been shot and I think he’s dead.”
Hull said Mathis’ mother, who is Young’s sister, “didn’t have much control over (Mathis) and he kind of came and went as he wanted.”
Hull said that on the morning of the killing, Young had called his sister and asked to talk to Mathis and later picked Mathis up. It was then, the prosecutor said, that the nephew and uncle rode to the woman’s house on Bradstone Circle — a woman they did not know — and busted in after ringing the doorbell and the woman didn’t answer.
Hull said to jurors that “if you kill someone or harm someone when you are really trying to kill or harm someone else, you don’t get credit for the fact that you messed up and hurt the wrong person.”
Testimony was expected to resume Thursday morning.