Gwinnett death-penalty trial opens

A blind and mentally challenged woman, an 11-year-old girl, a 19-year-old man and a 28-year-old woman lay dead or dying behind her when Gifty Kargbo fled in stark terror from a house in Lawrenceville on Aug. 27, 2009.

On the witness stand Friday, Kargbo shakily pointed toward a defendant wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and red tie and identified the man, Richard Ringold, as the person she said shot them all. On the first day of testimony in Ringold’s death-penalty trial in Gwinnett County, prosecutors told jurors Ringold went on a shooting rampage after arguing with his girlfriend, Atania Butler.

Ringold had moved his belongings into Butler’s house the day before, and on that day she learned that he had been two-timing her with another woman for about a year and a half, prosecutors said.

Kargbo, a close friend of Butler’s, said Butler was upset about her boyfriend’s philandering. Just before the shooting, Butler and Ringold had been arguing for about an hour outside Butler’s home on Clairidge Lane in Lawrenceville. As Butler stepped across the threshold to come back inside, she called out for a friend who was in the living room, Kargbo said.

Ringold was a step behind her with a gun, Kargbo said.

“He shot her in the back of the head and he kind of hesitated,” said Kargbo. “Once he did that, he walked through the house aiming and shooting at everyone else.”

Butler’s daughters Jhane, 11, and Nhaje, 4, had been playing video games in the living room while Kargbo relaxed nearby with her boyfriend, Rico Zimmerman, 19, who also lived with the Butlers; and LaKeisha Parker, a 30-year-old blind and mentally challenged woman that Zimmerman was hired to care for.

Ringold is accused of shooting all of five of them except Kargbo, who escaped out the front door and ran to a neighbor’s home a few doors down for help. The only other survivor was 4-year-old Nhaje, who was shot two or three times.

Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said Nhaje told the officers who came to the house, “Rich shot my family.” The little girl, who is expected to testify Monday or Tuesday, did not appear to be bleeding very much, and she didn’t want to take off her T-shirt because it was one that her mother had given her, Porter said.

Ringold’s capital defense attorney, Gladys Haynes Pollard, told jurors in her opening statement that she would call into question some of the witnesses’ credibility. She said the woman who was in an 18-month relationship with Ringold will testify he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in a relationship with Butler at the same time.

She said the 9 mm handgun used in the slayings was never found. She urged jurors to keep an open mind.

“There’s two sides to every story,” Pollard said.

A court-appointed defense attorney who represented Ringold for a brief period shortly after his arrest has previously said that Ringold had an alibi for the day of the slayings and that he was playing video games with friends when the crime occurred. However, Pollard made no mention of an alibi on Friday.

Prosecutors said Ringold could be the first person sentenced to the death penalty in Gwinnett County in a decade.

Ringold’s case is the first death-penalty trial in Gwinnett County since 2005. In that 2005 case, a jury convicted Wesley Harris of the November 1999 murders of 22-year-old Whitney Land and her 2-year-old daughter, Jordan, but deadlocked in a 10-2 vote when trying to decide if Harris should be executed. Harris was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Ringold’s trial is projected to last about a week.