Witherspoon sentencedto life behind bars

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 8, 2002

The court remained silent in the moments after Johnathan Witherspoon, 31, of Selma, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Prince Tolbert.

Witherspoon was arrested for the murder of Tolbert in May 2001 which occurred outside of a local nightclub.

Henry Pitts, the defense attorney for Witherspoon, quickly filed some post-sentencing and procedural motions before anyone had a chance to react to the judge’s sentence.

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Words, however, were exchanged between family members of the Witherspoon and Tolbert families as everyone left the courtroom, but sheriff’s deputies were on hand to make sure everything remained calm.

The sentencing occurred after Witherspoon’s second trial.

The first trial ended in a hung jury.

The second trial began a few months later and came to an emotional end with the life sentence that was handed down Thursday morning.

A past felony conviction in Florida for the delivery of cocaine raised the minimum level of punishment he could receive from 10 to 20 years.

Joseph Fitzpatrick Jr., of the prosecution, attempted to convince the judge that two previous felony counts should be considered when sentencing Witherspoon.

However, the judge decided to allow only the cocaine conviction.

The remainder of the sentencing was filled with two witnesses giving their account of Witherspoon.

The first was Velma Tolbert, the mother of the deceased.

She gave a highly emotional account of how her son’s death had affected her family.

Some family members were visibly in tears when she had finished her story.

The second witness, the Rev. Eugene Evans, who testified for the defense, claimed that Witherspoon had given his life to Christ after the murder, learned his lesson and did not deserve to be punished.