Crime

Mother sobs as Macon teen sentenced for killing his uncle in burglary gone wrong

Mother wails as Macon judge sends teenage killer away for life

A Bibb County jury on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, decided the fate of an 18-year-old Macon man who went on trial for murder in the shooting death of his uncle, James Robert Young Jr., in June 2017 in east Macon. Judge Howard Z. Simms lectured the killer.
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A Bibb County jury on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, decided the fate of an 18-year-old Macon man who went on trial for murder in the shooting death of his uncle, James Robert Young Jr., in June 2017 in east Macon. Judge Howard Z. Simms lectured the killer.

A Macon teenager was found guilty of murder and burglary Friday in an unusual case, in which the intended target, a Macon woman, was not the person shot to death, prosecutors said.

The woman, a Macon fifth-grade teacher, had been home alone, sleeping late one morning in June 2017. She was awakened by the chime of her doorbell, which then rang again. By the time she could get dressed to answer it, a pair of intruders who’d apparently thought no one was home had kicked in her door and were hauling off her TV.

Upon seeing her inside the house, the surprised bandits headed for the door. But one of them had a gun, prosecutors have said, and that gunman, armed with a 40-caliber Glock pistol, aimed at the teacher.

When he squeezed the trigger, the gunman’s accomplice by chance stepped into the bullet’s path. The bullet struck James Robert Young Jr., 41, in the forehead, passing through the front of his brand-new New Orleans Saints hat, killing him.

The shooter in that June 19, 2017, incident was Young’s nephew, Aurie Mathis, who was 16 at the time. Now 18, Mathis went on trial this week facing murder and burglary charges.

At midday Friday, after a day and a half of testimony, jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before finding Mathis guilty of murder and burglary.

Earlier this week, prosecutors had offered a plea deal to Mathis: plead guilty and serve 30 years before becoming eligible for parole. But Judge Howard Z. Simms informed Mathis at the time that Mathis risked a sentence of those 30 years plus 20 more were he convicted of murder and burglary at trial.

Mathis’ attorney, Melvin Raines, had told jurors earlier in the week that Mathis’ parents claimed their son was asleep the morning the killing happened, that he often slept all day.

Though the schoolteacher victim could not identify Mathis in a photo lineup, other witness testimony and evidence the police collected put Mathis at the scene.

Young, Mathis’ uncle, had picked Mathis up the morning of the slaying, driven to an eastside neighborhood on Bradstone Circle, off Millerfield Road near Bowden Golf Course, and the pair had busted into the teacher’s home.

Mathis chose not to take the stand.

Aurie Mathis, 18, shown here about to leave court on Thursday in Bibb County Superior Court. Mathis was on trial for the June 2017 slaying of his uncle, James Robert Young Jr., 41, during a burglary that prosecutors allege the pair were committing.

During her closing argument to the jury, prosecutor Dorothy Hull portrayed Mathis as a partner in crime with his uncle and said it was Mathis who “made the decision to pull the trigger, ... the conscious and cold-hearted decision to kill, and kill he did.”

When it came time to sentence Mathis, the judge said what galled him most was that Mathis had tried to steal from someone who had worked for what she had.

“I guess getting a job would have interfered with your video-game-playing time, sleeping all day,” Simms said.

What was more, the judge went on, was that the victim had found someone invading her home and “you tried to kill her for no other reason than that she had the temerity to be in her own home, minding her own business.”

Simms said the punishment would have been stiffer had Mathis been older than 16 at the time and been eligible for a life-without-parole sentence.

“I would do it in a second,” the judge said. “But I can’t, so I’m gonna do the next best thing.”

And with that he sent Mathis away for what will likely be at least 50 years, and Mathis’ mother, seated in the courtroom behind him, wailed.

Joe Kovac Jr. covers crime and courts for The Telegraph with an eye for human-interest stories. A Warner Robins native, he joined the paper in 1991 after graduating from the University of Georgia.
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