Prosecutors may seek death penalty against Jonesboro, Ill., man

Saturday, January 13, 2007
Union County Sheriff David Livesay escorted Robert E. Pitts Jr. into the county courthouse in Jonesboro, Ill., Friday for Pitts' initial appearance for the indictment against him in the shooting deaths of his parents last month. (Fred Lynch)

Robert Pitts Jr. is accused of the shooting deaths of his parents.

JONESBORO, Ill. -- Illinois may seek the death penalty for a 23-year-old Jonesboro man charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of his parents last month.

A grand jury indicted Robert Pitts Jr. Wednesday, stating he killed his parents, Robert Pitts Sr., 45, and his wife, Marcia, 43, by shooting both in the head Dec. 21.

Pitts is in custody in the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin, Ill., in lieu of a $1 million bond.

Shackled and outfitted in prison garb, Pitts made his initial court appearance Friday in Union County Circuit Court on the charges as well as felony charges of theft and residential burglary filed Dec. 29.

Circuit Judge Mark M. Boie explained to Pitts, who appeared with court-appointed attorney Patrick Duffy of Jonesboro, that the death penalty was a possibility for his crimes if he is convicted.

The state has 120 days from the date of arraignment, set for Feb. 6, to decide if it will pursue that punishment, he said.

At the very least, Pitts, if convicted, faces a mandatory 20 to 60 years' imprisonment without possibility of probation for each murder charge.

"Natural life imprisonment is also a possibility," Boie said, if the crime is "found to be of an exceptionally brutal or heinous nature."

Union County State's Attorney Allen W. James said after Friday's hearing Pitts could be a candidate for the death penalty, if convicted, because two people were killed.

Other considerations will be based on the evidence of the crime and locating the murder weapon, which has not been found, he said.

The state believes the residential burglary and theft charges presented in court Friday are tied to the homicides and will seek a motion to combine those charges with that of the murders, James said, although he did not have a date for when the motion would be filed.

Items stolen from a Jonesboro residence Dec. 19 were reportedly found in Robert Pitts Jr.'s residence, which he shared with his parents, after the murders, James said.

One item reportedly stolen from the home Dec. 19, a Ruger .22-caliber automatic pistol, has not been found, James said.

James would not comment if the gun could be the possible murder weapon. However, locating the gun and linking it to the murders could also mean the state would look at the possibility of a premeditated murder, he said.

Union County Sheriff David Livesay said Friday police are still looking for the gun, believed to be in the Jonesboro area.

"We're asking residents if they find or see a gun to treat it as if loaded," Livesay said, and to contact the sheriff's department at (618) 833-5500.

James added that Pitts was held on the burglary and theft charges while the murders were investigated by police. Bond was set at $250,000, which Friday was added to the $1 million bond set for the murder charges.

335-6611, extension 127

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