The Norman Transcript

September 13, 2013

Murder victim’s son testifies in court

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Testimonies for a first-degree murder trial began Thursday, one of which included the murder victim’s son.

Gary Norton Sr., 55, of Lexington, was shot and killed on Easter Sunday last year in his home after a drive-by shooting.

Russell Lee Blackwood, 41, of Purcell, is on trial for first-degree murder.

Blackwood was charged conjointly with Richard Dean Lansdale, 38, also of Purcell. The two are accused of killing Norton during the drive-by shooting. Norton died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Norton’s son, Gary Norton Jr., of Noble, took the stand Thursday, answering questions about his father and younger brother, Josh Norton. Josh lived in his father’s home with his girlfriend, Tonya Pittman, at the time of the shooting.

Norton Jr. testified that he and his family stayed away from Josh because they did not agree with his lifestyle.

“He was a drug addict,” Norton Jr. said. “He had a problem of taking care of himself.”

He told the courtroom that his younger brother never really grew up. In his opinion, Josh took advantage of their father because their father always supported him no matter what, he said.

Norton Jr. said he was close with his father and talked to him every day. Norton Sr. also was close to his son’s family, going to barbecues with them or spending time fishing with his granddaughters.

Josh Norton’s girlfriend, Pittman, also took the stand Thursday, telling the courtroom Norton Sr. was like a father figure to her and a good father to Josh.

“He was a great person. He was always there for Josh,” Pittman said.

Although the two lived with Norton Sr., neither of them were there the night of the shooting. The day before the shooting, April 7, 2012, Pittman said someone called their house twice.

In the prosecutor’s opening statement, attorney Allie Spears said the person who called that night was Shannon Davis, Josh’s ex-wife and mother to his child. Spears said Davis was also the defendant, Blackwood’s, girlfriend at the time.

Davis called that night to talk to Josh and told him she was upset and was thinking about harming herself, which concerned Josh, Spears said.

While Spears told the courtroom Josh had his father drive him to Davis’ home that night, Pittman testified that Josh told her he was going to his friend’s house.

Spears said when Josh arrived at Davis’ home, Davis was not upset the way he thought she would be; there was no indication of her harming herself and she was on the phone with Blackwood, so Josh left.

After Josh left, Davis told police Josh assaulted her in a sexual manner, Spears said. Blackwood then called the Norton residence and said, “You’re a dead man walking” and threatened to kill Josh, she told the jury.

Blackwood and Lansdale set out that night to teach Josh Norton a lesson to not mess with Shannon Davis, Spears said.

“It was a lesson that cost Josh Norton’s dad his life,” she said.

Pittman testified that she ended up going to Josh’s friend’s house that night, but no one was there.

When questioned whether she was surprised her boyfriend was not there, she said no because Josh would often not be where he said he would be. So, she went to her mother’s home in Purcell to see her children, where she stayed for the rest of the night.

Spears said Josh left that night to stay at a friend’s house after learning Davis had called police, telling them he sexually assaulted her, because he already had warrants out for his arrest. Norton Sr. was left home alone for the night.

Fast forward to 8:30 a.m. Easter Sunday when Pittman said she arrived home because she, Josh and Norton Sr. had family plans for Easter Sunday.

“He was supposed to make tator tot casserole,” she said.

She knocked, but no one answered. She waited on the porch for three hours, but no one came to the door. When neighbors finally got home, she used their phone to call her mother to come pick her up, she said.

Pittman said she knew something was wrong when Norton Sr. didn’t answer his phone because he always answered his phone.

Norton Jr. also testified that his father always answered his phone, even if it was late and he had been sleeping.

When Pittman finally got into contact with Josh, he and two others came to pick her up and they drove over to the house. Pittman said she and Josh talked about how they both felt like something was wrong.

Josh unlocked the front door with his house key, called out for his father twice and then said, “I can’t go in there,” Pittman testified. Pittman then entered the house, opened Norton Sr.’s bedroom door and called out to him two or three times before she saw him lying in bed motionless.

“I just knew he was dead,” she said.

Pittman said she ran out screaming and told them he was dead.

“I thought something was wrong, but I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said, adding that she went around the corner and got sick after she ran out of the house.

Since Josh had warrants, she said he left and asked her to stay there with his dad, telling her they were going to get the police. When police showed up, she later learned that Norton Sr. had not died because of natural causes, which surprised her, she said.

Blackwood’s lead defense attorney, Charles Douglas, also questioned the two witnesses on Thursday, but his opening statement encouraged jurors to pay more attention to a testimony yet to come.

Douglas said the state’s star witness, Samantha Taitano, was in the vehicle with Blackwood and Lansdale the night of the drive-by shooting. While Lansdale and Blackwood are both facing first-degree murder charges, he said Taitano is facing no charges, which could be indicative of a deal that was made.

If the state did not have Taitano testifying, they wouldn’t have much to support the conclusion that Blackwood committed the crime of first-degree murder, he said.

“(Taitano) has a motive for lying to save her skin,” Douglas told the jury, adding that on the night of the incident, she had been “smoking dope” and told investigators she was only with the two men to “get high.”

Douglas said the facts are Taitano was in the vehicle with them, saw the gun they used, was given earplugs before the drive-by shooting occurred and helped them dispose of the evidence in the lake.

The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today in District Judge Tracy Schumacher’s courtroom.

The 12-person jury and two alternate jurors selected Thursday were comprised of six male and six female jurors, with two males serving as alternates.

After all evidence has been presented and closing statements are made, they will determine whether Blackwood is guilty of first-degree murder.

Jessica Bruha

366-3540

jbruha@normantranscript.com