Judge delivers sentence in trial of Pelham grocery store owner death
By Jordan Barela and Asia Wilson | July 23, 2019 at 11:32 AM EDT - Updated July 24 at 12:08 AM
CAMILLA, Ga. (WALB) - The trial of two men charged in the death of a Pelham grocery store owner ended with a jury verdict and the judge’s sentence Tuesday.
On day two, both sides delivered closing arguments Tuesday afternoon and by 7:10 p.m., a verdict had been reached. The judge, after hearing from the victim’s family and family of both charged in the death of Bob Bettison, 79, delivered her sentencing.
Jerrod Johnson and Herbert Lamar Laster were both charged with felony murder, armed robbery, malice murder, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and two counts of aggravated assault in the death of Bettison in October of last year.
Johnson was found guilty on all charges.
Laster was found guilty of felony murder, armed robbery and both counts of aggravated assault, but he was found not guilty of malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.
Both men were sentenced to life without the chance of parole. Johnson, however, was also sentenced to 20 years for armed robbery and five years for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, with all sentences to be served concurrently.
Day 2: Inside the courtroom
Jurors deliberated the fate for Johnson and Laster after prosecutors brought in five people from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to testify.
Agents showed surveillance video from inside Bettison’s store and video from EZ Mart from across the street.
The videos showed both men.
In an audio interview with the GBI, Laster told agents he first went to EZ Mart the morning of the murder to get two hamburgers, a Gatorade and a soda. He said he and his girlfriend were hungry.
The state argued that Laster bought a bags of chips to distract Bettison. They said Johnson then came from behind and took Bettison’s revolver and shot him, taking two back bags.
Johnson claimed he went to the store to buy lottery tickets.
Agents said Laster was seen on the camera walking into Bettison’s Store. They took the cameras inside Bettison’s store to show he bought two bags of chips. The purchase happened eight minutes before the shooting.
They said Johnson was outside the store waiting.
The state also said the cameras from EZ Mart showed the two meeting on the side of Bettison’s store at some point.
Laster said he went there because it’s his favorite store and it’s cheap.
The state said Johnson was the shooter and Laster held the door open after Johnson shot and robbed Bettison.
Prosecutors said Johnson took the two bank bags and ran out of the store. Later, Laster was seen running as well.
Johnson returned to the store a second time since no money was in the bank bags, that’s when he shot Bettison the second time.
Johnson told GBI agents he went back because he wanted the money.
Laster’s attorney said he was scared and never returned to the store with Johnson the second time.
Agents said Johnson told them he then ran from the store after shooting Bettison the second time and the gun fell out of his pocket.
Another agent revealed he went to a home, looking for Johnson (under search warrants), and found stashes of money.
They also found receipts from Bettison’s store, one that included Laster’s name and his purchase that morning.
They said they found black shirts that were wet and had a strong bleach smell.
Prosecutors said Johnson robbed and shot Bettison twice, all for nearly $400.
Laster’s attorney said he did not shoot or rob Bettison.
GBI agents said Laster indicated he knew a robbery would take place before it happened.
Johnson’s attorney said the state did not prove he was the one seen in the Bettison’s Grocery Store video since it was grainy.
GBI medical examiners said Bettison was shot at in two incidents and had three gunshot wounds. They said the bullets went through parts of his body his body like his chest, rib, lungs and brain.
“Was bleeding in the left chest cavity. It actually fractured the spin and back bone area, causing those injuries. And then of course the projectile that went through the head caused damage to the brain, he had bleeding around the brain,” said Maryanne Gaffney-Kraft, the GBI regional medical examiner.
Johnson and Laster were charged in connection to Bettison’s death, which happened in October 2018.
Bob Bettison (Source: Pelham Police Department)
Both suspects were charged with the following:
Jerrod Johnson, left and Herbert Laster, right. (Source: Mitchell County Sheriff's Office)
Both suspects were indicted in January 2019.
More witnesses are expected to take the stand Tuesday.
[ Read More: Day 1 of the Bob Bettison trial ]
Opening statements began Monday around 4 p.m.
Herbert Laster in court on Monday. (Source: WALB)
Jerrod Johnson in court on Monday. (Source: WALB)
Two witnesses were called to the stand by the state. The witnesses were the responding Pelham Police Officer and a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) special agent. The GBI agent went through photos she collected of the scene. She gathered over 350 pictures.
Laster and Johnson both chose not to testify.
Ricky Collum, Laster’s attorney, requested Judge Heather Lanier dismiss Laster on the malice and felony murder charges, along with the aggravated assault and armed robbery charges. Collum said there was no evidence that proved Laster was a party to the charges. Collum argued that Laster knew the armed robbery was going happen but that the state never proved he robbed or shot Bettison.