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Trial underway for murder case

Trial underway for murder case Trial underway for murder case
Kaitlyn Clay, Staff Writer, [email protected]

The night of Feb. 10, 2020, may not be a significant memory to most Harrison County residents. But for a select few, it’s a night that will forever be etched in their mind.

It’s a night the few involved seem to all remember a little bit differently, too. However, something they can all agree on is activities that occurred that night on South Martin-Mathis Road just outside of Palmyra caused the death of Christina Grimsley.

Grimsley, who was 21 at the time of her death, had agreed to sell an ounce of marijuana to Sam Smith on the rainy February night. However, the drug deal didn’t go the way she had intended as Smith, Dalton Madley and Christian Pittman, all traveling in a white Ford Ranger to meet with her, allegedly decided to drive away once handed the drugs, without paying Grimsley.

As Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk told the jury, Grimsley grabbed a hold of the truck with intent to finish the transaction or get the drugs back, but instead was thrown from the vehicle that sped away, ultimately resulting in her death. In Indiana, robbery that results in a death of any nature is considered murder.

Last week, the State of Indiana v. Christian Kenneth Pittman, a murder trial for the driver of the Ranger that night, began in Harrison Superior Court with Judge Joseph (Joe) Claypool and a 12-person jury, which took two days to seat.

During the course of several days, numerous accounts were told as witnesses for the state’s case took the stand.

Lt. Officer Nathan Ranke, a deputy who has worked for the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept. for nearly 10 years and the first police officer to arrive at the scene that night, testified starting Thursday and leading into part of Friday.

He noted that when he arrived at the scene, there was pure chaos ensuing, from Grimsley’s father, Jesse James, firing gunshots into the air to Tabatha Wilson, Grimsley’s fiancé, trying to explain what had happened through grief as EMS personnel attended to Grimsley.

The jury was shown body camera footage from Ranke’s uniform on the night in question. The footage was from him arriving at Pittman’s house after following tips given to the sheriff’s department that the Ford Ranger in question was registered in Pittman’s name. Pittman claimed he had not been at the scene recently, adding that Sam Smith had borrowed his truck.

However, footage taken from a gas station in Palmyra proved that to be false as it showed Pittman, Smith and Madley together, in the truck, just prior to the incident, with Pittman in the driver’s seat.

Ranke had also obtained Facebook messages between Smith and Grimsley setting up the drug deal with an agreed upon amount of $135 for the ounce of marijuana.

In the cross examination, Pittman’s defense attorney, Bart Betteau, argued that because Ranke had not filled out an accident report or had a reconstruction of the scene completed it was hard to tell what exactly happened that night.

Betteau also argued it would be impossible for the witnesses to be credible sources to the speed at which the truck was traveling. The attorney later pointed out the difference in officer reports from that night, driving his argument that a reconstruction expert should have been called in to verify the accounts.

However, the trial ended for the day Thursday over a matter that nearly each witness to take the stand has brought up: a pending child sex-trafficking and rape case Pittman currently has filed against him in Harrison County from April 3, 2020.

During his testimony, Ranke was asked if he knew of any other allegations against Pittman, to which he spoke about this ongoing case.

Authorities allege that Pittman drugged, raped and trafficked a 14-year-old in January of 2020. Due to the fact that this case is set to go before a jury in July, Claypool ruled it cannot be discussed in the current murder trial to the jury.

As the trial continued, even on Saturday, Madley and Smith were brought before the jury as state witnesses. The two had a similar story from the night in question: they needed a ride and a cousin of Pittman’s arranged for Pittman to pick them up. At some point along the way, an agreement was made to take, rather than pay for, the marijuana from Grimsley, according to Smith.

Madley, 17, who is currently on probation after serving more than a year in a juvenile detention center for pleading guilty to robbery, did not know Pittman prior to this night. Madley was sitting in the middle seat the night of the incident.

“Christian looked at me and Sam and said, ‘Are y’all ready to have some f****** fun?’,” Madley said on the stand Saturday morning as he described what he witnessed as Pittman began driving when Grimsley fell to the ground from the truck. “I was screaming to stop.”

Madley’s answers while testifying explained how Pittman was bragging that night about other crimes he has committed, like the rape and a drive-by shooting in Louisville, which caused Claypool to temporarily excuse the jury from the courtroom. When the jury returned, the judge advised the jury to disregard those comments by Madley.

Madley also testified that Pittman threatened to kill him if he told authorities what had happened.

Smith, who was in the passenger seat that night and had arranged the drug deal, took the stand on Monday morning. He currently is serving an 18-month sentence in Harrison County Jail which will be followed by a year of home incarceration, after pleading guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, robbery resulting in injury and murder.

Smith shared his account of the night, noting they never intended to take the drugs by force.

Closing arguments in the trial began yesterday (Tuesday).