Cierra accused of tampering with phone before giving it to investigators
Last week’s arraignments in a Jones County murder case went smoothly, but the bond revocation hearing for one of the defendants went through several complicated layers before reaching its conclusion.
Superior Court Judge Donald Gillis, who is the Chief Judge of the Dublin Judicial Circuit, presided over the arraignments and the bond hearing. The out-of-circuit judge was necessary because all five of the superior court judges in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit have recused themselves from the case.
Jeremy Xavier Butts was arrested May 27 and charged with murder in the death of 20-year-old Jada Franese Simmons. The shooting took place at a party on Nitrogen Road in Jones County.
His sister, Cierra Simone Butts, was arrested May 19 and charged with hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal for her role in her brother’s flight to El Paso, Texas, that took place the same night as the shooting.
A Jones County Grand Jury indicted the siblings Aug. 2. Jeremy Butts was indicted for the charges of felony murder and seven counts of aggravated assault. Cierra Butts was indicted for the charge of hindering the apprehension of a criminal.
The brother and sister were represented in the Sept. 3 proceedings by Defense Attorney Adrian Patrick, whose office is in Snellville.
Both Jeremy and Cierra Butts entered not guilty pleas in their arraignments.
Jeremy Butts was removed from the courtroom following his arraignment, and the focus was turned to the bond hearing for his sister.
Assistant District Attorney Faith Worley represented the state in the bond hearing.
Worley told the court that the first issue was that Cierra Butts was arrested in Baldwin County and granted a transfer bond. When she was brought to Jones County, the same bond was used.
“Our concern is there are not sufficient conditions. The state wants to be sure the bond is legally sufficient,” she said.
Patrick said the bond was already transferred, and there was nothing to revoke. He said the more appropriate move was to set another bond.
The judge agreed that in his opinion the $5,000 bond had been transferred.
Worley said the bond has no conditions other than the date to be notified to come to court and that is not legally sufficient.
“I want it on record that we at least had a discussion,” she said.
Gillis said if the bond is not sufficient, Butts needed to be taken into custody in Jones County.
Worley went forward with the motion to revoke Butts’ bond. She explained that the charges were a result of a May 16 party in Jones County that was sponsored by a Milledgeville gang. She said Butts had an ongoing dispute with one of the party attendees, and her brother got involved.
“He pulled his gun and fired into the crowd. It struck the victim in the back of the head, and she died,” the prosecutor said.
Worley said witnesses left the scene, but investigators were able to determine that Jeremy Butts was the shooter. She said he left the state and was driven to the airport by Cierra Butts, who even bought his plane ticket.
The prosecutor said after Jeremy and Cierra were indicted, a search warrant was issued for both of their phones.
Worley called Jones County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Barron Hall to the witness stand. Hall testified that JCSO Investigator Crystal Murphy is the lead investigator in the case, but he was involved in the arrests. He said he and Capt. Travis Douglas went to the residence of Cierra Butts to execute the warrant for the phone.
Hall said Cierra answered the door and told them to wait while she got the phone. He said several minutes later she returned with the phone, which was brought back to the JCSO and logged into evidence.
The witness said a second warrant was secured to be able to search the phone. That is when it was discovered the phone had no SIM (subscriber identity module) card. He said a warrant was issued for Cierra on the charge of tampering with evidence.
Patrick asked the witness if he could establish that the phone had a SIM card.
Hall said the phone does not work without it.
Worley asked if, based on the evidence, the Cierra Butts phone was working. Hall said it was.
The prosecutor said the state rested.
In her statement to the court, she asked that Butts’ bond be revoked because of the new charge. She added that Butts knows all the witnesses in the case and has shown her tendency to interfere in the case.
“There is also the likelihood that she will continue to tamper with evidence,” Worley said.
Patrick argued that his client was never given a Miranda warning when the phone was taken, and the state did not establish that the phone ever had a chip in it. He asked the bond not be revoked.
At the conclusion of the arguments of the attorneys, Gillis left the bench for a few minutes to go to the law library. When he returned, he had a lot to say.
The judge started by saying the bond for Cierra Butts was the worst bond order he had seen in his life.
“It’s insane. I want this bond order revised,” he said.
Gillis said he was not going to revoke the bond because the Jones County Sheriff’s Office had a right to accept the bond or not.
Then the judge spoke directly to Cierra Butts.
“Understand this: I’m going to modify this bond, and I expect you to strictly adhere to it,” he said.
“Yes sir,” was Butts’ response.
Gillis stated, if there had been a standard bond in place, he would have revoked it.
The judge said he wanted a $50,000 bond because he felt there needed to be some ‘skin in the game.’
“You’re not to leave the jurisdiction, and you will remain in Jones County until this bond is posted,” he said.
The bond includes the usual conditions of not violating any federal, state or local law, no alcohol, drugs or firearms and a fourth amendment waiver. In addition, he ordered an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and no contact with any witnesses, victims or their families.
A story about a June 10 preliminary hearing for Jeremy Butts in Jones County Superior Court stated that Butts, 26, was booked into the Jones County Law Enforcement Center May 27 and charged with murder in the death of Simmons. The shooting was reported to the Jones County Sheriff’s Office at 3 a.m., May 16, and the victim was pronounced deceased at the scene on Nitrogen Road from a single gunshot wound to the head. Butts apparently fled after the shooting and was arrested May 18 in El Paso, Tx. by U.S. Marshals.
Butts waived extradition at a May 21 hearing in El Paso. JCSO Lt. Ed Bailey and Sgt. Travis Walker drove to El Paso and brought Butts back to Jones County.
Cierra Butts was arrested May 19 and charged with hindering the apprehension or punishment of a criminal for her role in her brother’s flight to El Paso.
Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Wright Barksdale represented the state at the preliminary hearing and Butts was represented by Patrick and Milledgeville attorney Cedric Davis.
Barksdale told the court that the defense filed motions for the preliminary hearing and a bond hearing.
The state’s only witness in the preliminary hearing was the lead investigator in the case for JCSO, Crystal Murphy. The investigator said she was on call May 16 when the call came in. She said the information she received was that one person had been shot and she contacted two other investigators to meet her there.
Murphy said when she arrived, she found out that the coroner had been called by deputies who were already on the scene. She said she spoke to the homeowner and found out the large party was attended by an estimated 150 – 250 people, most of whom were from Milledgeville.
Murphy said a flyer advertising the party contained a reference to the Piru gang. She said the body of the victim was located on the threshold of a door leading outside. The investigator said several bullet holes were found in the door frame, ceiling and door.
She said three of the projectiles were recovered from the room and a fourth was recovered from the victim. Lab results showed that all the recovered projectiles had been fired from the same gun.
Murphy said the report also stated that the rounds were from either a 357 or 38 revolver. No shell casings were found at the scene.
She said an individual who attended the party placed Butts there with his sister and pointed to him as the shooter. The investigator said another individual told investigators Butts’ sister had an altercation at the party and a third individual who attended the party told investigators Butts was seen pulling out a silver revolver at the party.
The suspect was also placed in the area of the shooting by other individuals at the party.
Patrick asked if anyone actually saw the shooting. Murphy said no. She said they saw the gun pulled and they left. The investigator said when the gun shots started, the crowd went in the opposite direction.
The attorney asked how many guns were reported at the party and the witness said one.
Patrick asked if any witnesses said Butts targeted the victim and Murphy said no.
He also questioned the creditability of the state’s witnesses with questions of criminal backgrounds and their sobriety during the party.
In his closing argument, Patrick said the evidence did not show the intent to shoot Simmons, which is necessary for aggravated assault and murder charges. The attorney asserted that the most his client should be charged with was reckless conduct or involuntary manslaughter.
He said Butts had no intent to harm the victim and asked he not be bound over for trial.
Barksdale said the victim was killed May 16 with a gunshot to the head. He said it is his belief that the state can show the defendant committed murder. The DA said whether the witnesses were high or drunk, their statements implicate that Butts committed the crime.
Barksdale said evidence shows the revolver was shot at least five times in the proximity of people.
A brief bond hearing for Jeremy Butts followed the preliminary hearing and his bond was denied.