Former Georgia Tech basketball star Javaris Crittenton left the Fulton County jail early Wednesday after posting bond on charges that he killed a woman in a drive-by shooting in southwest Atlanta.
Fulton Sheriff's spokesman Tracy Flanagan said Crittenton was released at 12:15 a.m. He will be required to wear an ankle monitor, Flanagan said.
In what at least one prosecutor considered an unusual move, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Karen Smith Woodson granted Crittenton a $230,000 bond until the case is tried in October.
The Associated Press reported that former Tech coach Paul Hewitt was one of several people who signed Crittenton's bond.
Earlier Tuesday, Woodson ruled there is probable cause to charge Crittenton with murder.
“I guess the judge made the [bond] decision that he’s not a danger to the community, which is odd, given the charges,” said Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. “It's not unheard of, but it's rare.”
During the bond hearing Tuesday, Crittenton’s attorney, Brian Steel called upon as many supporters as possible to win the one-time All-American bond, bringing a petition with more than 1,000 signers, dozens of people standing up for him inside and outside the courtroom and a host of character witnesses to testify to Crittenton’s virtues, including his childhood friend, his 7th grade teacher, his college sweetheart and Hewitt.
“He doesn’t accept anything but the best from himself,” Hewitt said from the witness stand. “He’s not a young man that needs basketball to be successful.”
Hewitt, now head basketball coach at George Mason University, said he spoke with Crittenton on the afternoon of Aug. 19, hours before police and witnesses say Crittenton was the triggerman in a drive-by shooting that killed Julian Jones.
Hewitt said he’d been keeping in touch with his former player to help develop a fitness regimen that would get the sidelined ball player back into the NBA after more than a year out of the league.
“He called specifically to talk about getting his weight down,” Hewitt said of Crittenton, acknowledging that his wasn’t the attitude of someone contemplating murder. “He was very upbeat.”
But Assistant Fulton County District Attorney Jack Barrs said none of Crittenton’s supporters or petition signers could prevent Jones’ family from grieving.
“Those 1,000 people couldn’t save that innocent woman,” Barrs said.
Crittenton is charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and gun possession in Jones’ Aug. 19 shooting death. Police allege that Crittenton shot Jones accidentally; he intended to shoot a man in a group with her who he believed had stolen jewelry from him, police say.
From the witness stand, Atlanta police homicide Detective James Thorpe Jr. testified that Jones was struck by two of four high-caliber assault rifle bullets fired. One grazed her upper right thigh. Another, he said, shattered her pelvis and thigh and “broke her femoral artery.”
Crittenton was arrested in Los Angeles Aug. 30, when FBI agents and members of the Los Angeles Police Department joint fugitive task squad intercepted the former first-round draft pick after he had checked in to board a Delta Air Lines flight to Atlanta.
Steel said at the time he had arranged with police to have his client turn himself in to Atlanta police.
On the night of the shooting, Jones, a mother of four, was walking near her Macon Drive home in southwest Atlanta. With her was a group that included a male teenager who police say Crittenton believed had robbed him of a diamond watch, diamond necklace and an iPhone, valued at more than $55,000, in April.
At the preliminary hearing Tuesday morning in Fulton County Superior Court, police said a witness picked Crittenton out of a photo lineup.
“He got a good, clear look at him,” Thorpe said of witness Trontavious Stevens, who was with Jones at the time of the shooting.
Thorpe testified that Stevens told police he saw a black Chevy Tahoe drive by, then double back and stop. A man rolled down the rear driver’s side window and fired four times from a semi-automatic rifle.
A second witness, Willie Mahone, also reported seeing a black Tahoe the night of the shooting, before going inside his home, then hearing four gunshots outside.
Both men said they had previously seen Crittenton in their neighborhood, apparently looking for the culprit of the April robbery, Thorpe testified, and investigators were able to track down a Tahoe matching their description that Crittenton had rented during the time of the shooting.
But Steel challenged Thorpe’s testimony, questioning whether the evidence presented was enough to put Crittenton at the scene of the crime.
“This is a witness ID testimony,” Steel said. “There is no physical evidence. There is no gun. There is no confession.”
However, Judge Woodson rejected Steel’s request that all charges be dismissed on the ground that police had no physical evidence.
Crittenton has had previous run-ins with the law, pleading guilty in January 2010 to a misdemeanor gun possession charge following a locker room altercation with teammate Gilbert Arenas. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard, out of the NBA since 2010, received a year of probation and was also suspended by the NBA for the rest of the 2010-11 season.
Hewitt said he had warned Crittenton about hanging around Arenas, when the Georgia Tech standout was traded to the Washington Wizards.
“I told him to be careful who he connected with in the locker room,” Hewitt said from the stand.
When prosecutor Barrs asked Darryl Slack, who knew Crittenton since elementary school, about the Washington incident, Slack said his friend was protecting himself.
“Javaris felt threatened by another individual, and he felt he should take action,” Slack told Barrs.
Thorpe alluded to Crittenton’s penchant for taking action when no resolution was quickly reached in the April robbery.
“During the course of a conversation with [the detective], Mr. Crittenton said, ‘I’ll just handle this myself,’” Thorpe told the court, paraphrasing part of the police report from the robbery case.
Mia Fields, a woman who dated Crittenton when he was in college and moved out to Los Angeles with him when he left Georgia Tech early and was drafted by the L.A. Lakers, testified that he was not fleeing, but coming to visit her for her birthday after the shooting.
“He was with me the entire time,” she testified, noting his demeanor changed when he learned he was accused of murder. “He was paralyzed in fear. He was trying to find a lawyer to prove his innocence.”
Gwinnett’s Porter said the prosecutor should have painted Crittenton as a threat, at least to one of the witnesses – Stevens – who was placed in a line-up for the April robbery, but not identified.
“I would make the argument that the target of the actual plot is still alive and still out there and in danger, if he’s released on bond,” Porter said.
Barrs did attempt to characterize Crittenton as vengeful.
“The state’s evidence will show that this is about revenge,” Barrs said, painting both witnesses as being in danger. “There are at least two people to whom he does pose a significant risk.”
Steel said Crittenton offered to turn himself in to the FBI in L.A., showing copies of text messages exchanged between the attorney and an FBI agent before the arrest and a letter offering surrender arrangements sent to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard.
“If he was going to flee, he would have,” Steel said of his client. “Mr. Crittenton is a lawful man.”
Woodson demanded that Hewitt, Fields, Slack and four other of Crittenton’s character witnesses be signees on the bond.
The trial begins Oct. 25.
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