After the two men who killed her only son pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday, Lorice Jones could barely hold her composure as she talked about her loss.
Bennie “Frank” Pulley’s mother addressed the court as Javon Deontay Rice and Malcolm Deeandre White each was sentenced to 20 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery, plus five years’ probation for using a gun to commit a felony.
The two had been on trial for murder in Pulley’s fatal shooting Jan. 27, 2013, at his 34 Lanier Drive home in Columbus’ Benning Hills neighborhood. But attorneys worked out a plea deal when after about 12 hours of deliberation, the jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of finding the two guilty.
As part of the sentencing, Pulley’s family told Superior Court Judge Frank Jordan Jr. how Pulley’s death had affected them. Jones said she has cried every day since her son died, longing to hear his voice again. “I will never hear the phone ring, and his voice on the other end saying, ‘Hello, my mother,’ as if I was the star in his life,” she said, her voice cracking. “The murder of my only son has severely crippled my existence.”
She glared at the two 20-year-olds who in pleading guilty admitted they killed Pulley, who was 33.
“Javon Rice and Malcolm White have proved they have no consideration for human life,” she said. “My son’s life was priceless.”
After the sentencing, Rice’s attorney Stacey Jackson said he and White’s lawyer Ed Cannington accepted the plea deal after hearing the jury was leaning toward finding their clients guilty.
The jury had deliberated six hours Tuesday and more than two hours Wednesday when Jordan called jurors into the courtroom at 11:45 a.m. for an update on their progress. The judge asked only for a numerical vote, not which way the jury was leaning, but the woman serving as foreman said “eight guilty” before he could interrupt.
Of the jury’s demographic composition were eight black women, two white women and two white men.
Had the jury remained hung and caused a mistrial, prosecutors likely would have tried Rice and White again, but in separate proceedings, Jackson said. In that instance prosecutors would have been able to use each suspect’s statements to police against the other — evidence Jordan had ruled was inadmissible in the joint trial, because the defendants could not be forced to testify about what they’d told investigators.
As neither could be compelled to take the witness stand, the other’s right to cross-examine witnesses against him would have been violated, the judge decided.
Rice’s chances of acquittal if tried alone with White’s statements admitted as evidence against him were not promising, Jackson said, and Rice would have faced life in prison if convicted.
Jackson noted also that investigators had not thoroughly checked fingerprints found at the crime scene, a circumstance he emphasized in his closing argument, telling jurors it left open the possibility someone else killed Pulley. He assumed police would try again to identify those fingerprints before a second trial, eliminating the defense tactic of questioning that evidence.
The lead prosecutor in his first murder trial was Assistant District Attorney Chris Williams. He said afterward that even with most jurors wanting to find the defendants guilty, a mistrial seemed likely, and resolving the case through a plea deal seemed better than holding two separate trials later — twice bringing back the witnesses and twice putting Pulley’s family through the ordeal of hearing details of the homicide.
Those details included testimony from neighborhood children who knew Pulley well and found him dying on the floor of his home when they heard gunfire and went to investigate.
Testimony showed Pulley died face-down on the floor of his front living room with five bullet holes in his body and a loaded .40-caliber pistol on the floor beside his right hand. Witnesses said he was a drug dealer with regular customers, but also well-liked among his neighbors, particularly the children he occasionally fed pizza.
Several of those children testified they were playing basketball out in the street near Pulley’s house when they saw two men go in, stay a while and leave, then return later.
They heard gunshots and saw the men flee, then went in to find Pulley on the floor, bleeding profusely and unable to talk or breathe.One girl was only 11 years old at the time. “He tried to talk,” she said of Pulley during her testimony. “It sounded like blood coming out of his mouth.”
Asked how the experience made her feel, she replied: “Like I didn’t want to be in Columbus anymore.”
Forensic pathologist Steven Atkinson testified Pulley was shot once in the right side of his chest, twice in the back of his right shoulder, once in his upper back below his neck, and once more on the left side of his back. Five casings from a .380-caliber handgun were found in Pulley’s front room, police said.
Some of the children identified Rice and White as the two men they saw that day, but defense attorneys noted discrepancies in their accounts of what happened and in their descriptions of the men they saw.
Authorities alleged Rice and White had visited Pulley earlier that Sunday to buy marijuana, then returned later to rob him. Police testified they were called to reports of gunfire at Pulley’s home at 4:45 p.m. that day.