published Friday, October 18th, 2013

Lonta Burress Jr. pleads guilty in Hamilton County homicide

  • photo
    Lonta Burress Jr. is led Thursday into Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Done Poole's courtroom at the City-County Courts Building in Chattanooga. Burress pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison for the June 1, 2011, shooting death of Darius Townsend.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

More than two years after two gunshots killed Darrius Townsend, the teenage boy charged in his shooting has pleaded guilty.

Lonta Burress Jr. pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on Thursday morning before Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole.

The 19-year-old originally was charged with first-degree murder in Townsend's June 1, 2011, death.

Two weeks after the shooting police arrested Desmond Pittman at the Riverbend Festival on an illegal weapons possession charge. Pittman later testified that he was on Taylor Street and saw Burress shoot Townsend.

Both Pittman and Burress were members of the Rollin 60s, a branch of the Crips street gang.

Prosecutor Cameron Williams said Pittman's testimony was the only thing tying Burress to the killing. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, and others at the scene told police they'd not seen what happened.

Police believe Burress shot Townsend, 17, over marijuana Townsend stole from Burress, Williams said.

Burress' attorney Bill Speek said his client was entering a "best interest" plea in which he does not admit guilt but agrees that a jury could convict him if the case went to trial.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Burress would have faced 51 years in prison with the possibility of parole. As part of the plea deal he was sentenced to five years and must serve 30 percent, or 18 months, before becoming eligible for parole.

Burress has been in custody for the past two years on a separate shooting crime, and must serve at least 30 percent of that six-year sentence before he begins serving time in the Townsend killing.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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