After they watched a video of the shooting and listened to an hourlong police interrogation with the suspect, a Walker County, Georgia, jury convicted a Rossville man of murder Thursday.
Police accused Robert William Ellis Jr., 43, of shooting Jeremy Little in the backyard of a home at 408 State Line Road last year. Witnesses testified the two men argued the night before the shooting, after Ellis allegedly threatened Little's girlfriend with a gun in the parking lot of the Dollar Tree in Rossville.
When Ellis returned home that night, on March 7, 2017, he found someone had shattered the windshield of his 1966 Mustang. He accused Little of the crime. He went to Little's girlfriend's home the next morning, surveillance footage showed, and shattered the windows of Little's truck. He returned that afternoon and told Little to come outside. When he did, Ellis shot him with a .45 pistol he bought that day for $50.
The gun was inches from Little's left cheek when the shot left the chamber. During a police interview later that day, Ellis told investigators he didn't mean to shoot Little; he planned to pistol whip him, but the gun accidentally fired. A video of the incident shows Ellis immediately grab his own head with both hands after Little dropped to the ground.
Ellis told investigators Little held a knife before the shooting, and Ellis thought he was going to attack him. But while reviewing the evidence in court Wednesday, Lookout Mountain Assistant District Attorney Lynsay Chapman told the jury that Little did not so much as move before Ellis shot him. Defense attorney Kristin Patton argued Little could have put his hands up in defense before the shooting.
The jury convicted Ellis on Thursday of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, criminal damage to property, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of criminal trespass. The jury acquitted Ellis on a second count of aggravated assault, over testimony about whether he actually pointed a gun at Little's girlfriend — the event that led to the shooting.
A judge will sentence Ellis on June 19. Little's cousin, John Linder, said he hopes Ellis receives the maximum possible punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Linder said he felt sick as he watched the surveillance footage of the shooting Wednesday.
"Actually seeing it with your own eyes is horrible," he said. "It's gut wrenching. It makes you go back through that loss all over again."
Little's best friend, T.J. Holland, has a different desire for Ellis' sentence: "What I would really like is for them to let me stick the needle in his arm. But I don't think they're going to let me do that." (The prosecution did not pursue the death penalty in this case.)
Holland and Little grew up down the block from each other on East 47th Street in Chattanooga, part of the Blackbottom neighborhood on the Tennessee-Rossville border. They met playing baseball together when they were 6 and liked to ride bicycles together.
Little worked as a brick mason for about 15 years. But over the last six months of his life, Holland said, he appeared to be falling apart. Holland said he had become hooked on methamphetamine. Little was always thick, but his face began to hollow out. Holland worried what would happen to him.
Holland said Little liked to whittle furniture and figurines for his mother, Darlene. He's not sure where Little picked up that skill. Little also liked to shoot pool at The Brew & Cue on Rossville Boulevard. Sometimes, Ellis hung out there, too. For years, there had been no love lost between the men.
"They just never liked each other," Holland said. "Ever."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.