Mere minutes after the state’s key eyewitness in the slaying of a Central High School student stepped down from the stand in court Tuesday morning, the accused killer on trial decided he wanted to plead guilty.
Authorities have said that the young man on trial, Wesley Jamison Holt, had tried to see to it that the witness kept his mouth shut.
Jailed since November 2017, 21-year-old Holt, a Mafia gang member, had been in touch with people by phone to dissuade the now-19-year-old witness from showing up in court, according to prosecutors.
The witness told a Bibb County jury that he feared for his life at times in the aftermath of the October 19, 2017, slaying of 16-year-old Jayvon Malik Sherman.
The witness, whose name is being withheld because of threats on his life, testified that he had grown up on the same street as Holt. They visited each other’s homes as children.
‘I’ve got to do the right thing.’
The morning of the shooting, the witness said he was on his way to school at Central High, approaching the old Winship Elementary School just north of Montpelier Avenue. Sherman, the victim, wasn’t far behind and was also walking to school at Central, about three blocks away.
The witness later told the cops that he was about to cross Pio Nono Avenue — just south of Napier Avenue in Unionville — when Holt, who was riding a bicycle, wheeled up and pulled a gun on him as if to rob him.
The witness then pulled down a hoodie he was wearing, and Holt, recognizing him, said, “Oh, my bad.” The witness would tell investigators that Holt had said he was “just looking for somebody to rob.”
Holt rode off, the witness testified, but he heard gunshots about a minute or two later and saw Sherman, whom he did not know, lying on the ground. Sherman had been shot in the heart with a 9mm pistol.
“I’ve kind of tried to forget that day,” the witness said. “That could have been me.”
He said he chose to testify because “I’ve got to do the right thing.”
He said he had been staying away from his home in the days leading up to the trial.
“I’ve prayed about it,” he said. “My conscience is clear.”
At one point, the witness identified Holt at the defense table and Holt bowed his head.
‘I pray that God has forgiveness...’
After the witness stepped down, there was a pause less than an hour into the proceeding.
Lawyers conferred, jurors were sent out and Holt pleaded guilty to malice murder and a gang crime in exchange for a 30-year mandatory prison term plus an additional 20 years for the gang charge.
But that arrangement allows him to be eligible parole in about 50 years. Had he been convicted of all charges, he faced life without parole plus 295 years.
Sherman’s mother stood before Judge Howard Z. Simms before the sentencing and told how her son had been born on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York. And how he “was so special ... a gorgeous baby boy,” who at 4 years old taught himself to ride a bicycle without training wheels.
Khadijah Taylor then spoke directly to her son’s killer, who was by then in handcuffs and seated on the side of the courtroom about 20 feet away.
“I pray that God has forgiveness on your soul,” she said. “I hope that you spend the rest of your life in jail because you are a menace to society. My son was walking to school, on his way to school minding his own business, and you just took his life for no reason. For no reason. And I can’t understand why.”
Given the chance to speak on his own behalf, Holt declined.
Simms, the judge, told him, “At some point in your life, son, I really hope that the depth of the pain that you have inflicted and the tragedy that you have caused becomes apparent to you. And I hope that you suffer for it, and that you sense the loss that you created with an act of utter stupidity.”
The judge then repeated the six heart-wrenching words that prosecutor Ben R. Conkling had spoken first to the jury that morning when referring to the murder of Jayvon Sherman: “He was just walking to school.”