Prosecutors' case keys on Strozier's alleged break-ins before Heath Jackson homicide

Indictment includes earlier burglary, armed robbery

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 26, 2013 

The death penalty case against Ricardo Strozier casts him as a repeat burglar prowling Columbus in the days leading up to the fatal Sept. 7, 2010, shooting of radio disc jockey David Heath Jackson.

Prosecutors allege Strozier broke into two other homes before Jackson was killed confronting him inside 1667 Carter Ave., where the morning on-air personality for the Christian station The Truth came home around lunchtime the Tuesday after Labor Day.

Police say Strozier shot Jackson with a .38-caliber revolver stolen in an Aug. 11, 2010, burglary at 14th Avenue and Virginia Street, four blocks off Lakebottom Park's west side. Jackson's home was four blocks east of the park.

Facing charges of murder, aggravated battery, armed robbery, burglary and using a firearm in a crime, Strozier will be in Muscogee County Superior Court this week as Judge Gil McBride sifts through 126 motions defense attorneys have filed in advance of the capital murder trial.

It's the first case in which District Attorney Julia Slater has sought the death penalty since she first took office in 2009. She was elected to a second term in November.

Strozier's to be represented by H. Burton Baker of the state capital defender's office in Tifton. Baker said Friday that three days have been set aside this week for "nonevidentiary" motions, those the attorneys can argue without witness testimony.

But they'll likely begin with one issue for which witnesses have been subpoenaed: Baker is challenging whether the grand jury that indicted Strozier was legally constituted under current Georgia law. Jury Manager Marsha Coram and members of the commission that qualifies jurors have been summoned for that.

Other motions Baker has filed challenge the constitutionality of the state laws Strozier is accused of violating and seek to avoid prejudicing potential jurors, requesting courtroom rules restricting emotional outbursts and security measures.

Baker said three more days of motion hearings have been set for Feb. 20-22. Such hearings do not indicate Strozier's trial is imminent because attorneys may appeal McBride's rulings on their pretrial motions to the Georgia Supreme Court, extending the time frame for setting the rules under which the trial may proceed, Baker said.

So McBride may have to await the high court's review of his rulings on the pretrial motions now before him. "Once that is returned to the local court, then the trial date may be set," Baker said.

The motions Baker has filed include these seeking:

• To restrict use of the terms "murder" and "DNA fingerprinting."

• To declare unconstitutional Georgia laws against murder, armed robbery and burglary.

• To declare Georgia's lethal injection method of execution unconstitutional.

• To prohibit Strozier's being shackled or wearing a prison uniform in court.

• To restrict the number of uniformed law enforcement officers in court, including any in the audience.

• To preclude any incidental contact between jurors and Jackson's family.

• To pay for jurors' daycare expenses, should they be in need of such services.

• To allow no one acquainted with Jackson's family to qualify as a juror.

• To make the notes jurors take during the trial part of the official record.

• To allow attorneys more than two hours for closing arguments.

• To allow Strozier, his attorneys and the jury to visit the Carter Avenue house where Jackson was killed.

The homicide

Authorities have said Jackson came home around 12:45 p.m. that day after working the 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on-air stint at the contemporary Christian station. Co-workers said he typically put in a couple of extra hours doing production work before heading home for lunch and a nap.

Investigators said Strozier broke in through the home's west-side basement door and was inside when Jackson arrived. During a preliminary hearing in Columbus Recorder's Court on Sept. 10, 2010, detectives said Strozier shot Jackson twice from behind before the 25-year-old ran outside and died in the driveway.

For this Strozier's indictment charges him with malice murder, alleging he intentionally shot Jackson "with malice aforethought," felony murder for committing another felony during the homicide, burglary for breaking in, armed robbery for taking Jackson's wallet at gunpoint, aggravated battery for "disfiguring" Jackson by shooting him, and possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, for having a gun during a burglary.

Police say they were on Strozier's trail immediately after Jackson's death.

Jackson's roommate told police he arrived as the intruder fled and saw a black man with shoulder-length dreadlocks leaving the house.

Strozier had a girlfriend who told detectives he texted her around the time Jackson was killed, saying he was in trouble and needed to be picked up at Lakebottom Park, they said.

A witness at the park reported seeing a black man with dreadlocks come dashing west between houses toward Cherokee Avenue,

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