A preliminary hearing to decide if the state had enough evidence to bind over the suspect in a Jones County shooting death case took place last week.
At the conclusion of the June 10 hearing, Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Trammel ruled there was more than sufficient evidence to bind Jeremy Xavier Butts over for trial.
Trammell also denied bond for Butts at the conclusion of a brief bond hearing.
Butts, 26, was booked into the Jones County Law Enforcement Center 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. 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 from a single gunshot wound to the head. Butts apparently fled after the shooting and was arrested May 18 in El Paso, Texas, 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.
The suspect’s 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.
Ocmulgee Circuit District Attorney Wright Barksdale represented the state at the preliminary hearing, and Butts was represented by Atlanta defense attorney Adriane 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 the 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, Dax Bolston, 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 individuals at the party.
Patrick asked if anyone actually saw the shooting. Murphy said no.
“They saw the gun pulled, and they left the room,” she said.
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.
“We believe the state can show the defendant committed murder. Whether they were high or drunk, the statements of the witnesses implicate that Butts committed the crime,” he said.
The prosecutor said evidence shows the revolver was shot at least five times in proximity of people.
“We have met our burden and showed probable cause,” he stated.
Following the court’s ruling, the next hearing was the defense’s motion for bond. The defense ended up putting forward only one witness an aunt, who it appeared was familiar with Butts in previous years.
When she was asked about his recent behavior and status of his military discharge, the witness said she did not get involved in his personal business.
A second witness was called but discharged by the defense before his testimony began when he stated he was familiar with the family but not the defendant.
In his argument for bond, Patrick said his client was presumed innocent of the charge. He said the state did not have a warrant for Butts when he traveled to Texas to visit friends.
Barksdale asked for the denial of the bond request because of the seriousness of the charges Butts is facing and his cross-country trek following the shooting.
The order to deny bond signed by Trammell lists the serious nature of the offenses and the risk of flight from the jurisdiction as the reason for its denial.