published Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Witness recounts teen’s slaying

Lonta Burress Jr. is escorted into his preliminary hearing in Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon's courtroom Tuesday related to the June 1 homicide of Darrius "Little D" Townsend.
Lonta Burress Jr. is escorted into his preliminary hearing in Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon's courtroom Tuesday related to the June 1 homicide of Darrius "Little D" Townsend.
Photo by Dan Henry.
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Desmond Pittman-Ross sat on the witness stand Tuesday and told a judge how he watched fellow gang member Lonta Burress Jr. shoot and kill another teen as the boy pleaded for his life.

General Sessions Court Judge Bob Moon found enough evidence in the testimony of Pittman-Ross and others to determine probable cause against the 17-year-old Burress. He sent the case to the grand jury for a possible indictment on a criminal homicide charge.

While Chattanooga police Detective Michael Wenger testified during the preliminary hearing, Moon had an officer stay with Pittman-Ross in the hallway. Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Steve Smith said the boy had been threatened.

Pittman-Ross, 16, dressed in a gray Thundercats T-shirt and knee-length red athletic shorts, testified that he and a friend he knows only as “KJ” were walking through the “cut,” an opening into the cul-de-sac of 900 Taylor St., the morning of June 1.

The pair saw Burress and “P-Nut,” who were “Rollin’ 60’s” gang members, a Crips-affiliated branch. Pittman-Ross testified that Burress asked P-Nut and KJ if he could shoot Darrius “Little D” Townsend, who stood down the street on the right side of the cul de sac. The pair said that was Burress’ choice, Pittman-Ross testified.

As the two walked on, they heard a gunshot, he said. From about 50 feet away, he said he saw Burress standing over Townsend, who was on his back, his hands in the air pleading, “Don’t do me like this, cuz.”

Pittman-Ross testified that Burress fired twice more.

The Hamilton County medical examiner’s report tells more. Townsend likely twisted his upper body to his right. A bullet struck him near his left ear, another pierced his left shoulder blade.

Burress ran into the treeline and Pittman-Ross said he ran to a friend’s house.

Burress sat in the courtroom, alternately talking with his private defense attorney, Kevin Loper, and looking either at the witness stand or at his shackled wrists in his lap.

On the stand, Pittman-Ross said his fellow gang members told him not to testify. The hearing date was moved twice when police couldn’t find Pittman-Ross.

During cross-examination, Loper asked how Pittman-Ross could be sure his client shot Townsend because he was more than 50 feet away and it was dark.

“We in the same gang. We see each other almost every day,” Pittman-Ross answered, frustrated.

Loper questioned why it took Pittman-Ross nearly 18 days to come forward with information, saying it happened only after he was detained when police saw him tucking a 9 mm pistol into his waistband shortly after the Riverbend Festival fireworks show.

“Because they did it to him, they could do it to me, too,” Pittman-Ross testified.

He estimated that there were 500 members of the “Rollin’ 60’s” in the local area.

Loper asked why Burress would have shot Townsend, and Pittman-Ross said he’d heard that Burress had been stealing from Townsend. The victim had talked about getting a gun and that he would kill Burress if the thefts kept happening, Pittman-Ross testified.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, Townsend’s mother, Laronda Townsend, wiped tears from her eyes and put her sunglasses back on.

“It didn’t have to be this way,” she said.

Laronda Townsend said she wants to start a foundation called Mothers Against Senseless Killing to try to prevent future violence. Throughout each of the three court hearings, she’s been surrounded by a dozen or more family and friends, many wearing white T-shirts with Townsend’s name and photograph.

The criminal homicide charge is not the only one that Burress is facing. He was arrested in connection with a Dec. 7 school bus stop shooting. No one was injured in that incident, but he faces aggravated assault, evading arrest, reckless driving and other charges in an Aug. 11 court date.

Burress also was arrested in connection with the March 2010 Coolidge Park shooting where five in a crowd of hundreds were wounded. Prosecutors dropped charges when a witness changed testimony in the Juvenile Court proceedings against him.

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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twharr said...

You look pretty tuff kiddo. Let's see how tuff you are when you're serving life with no possibility of parole. All the options you could have considered to have good life and you screwed it up. Now you get prison food, locked in a cage for hours, no women, no shopping, no partying, and all for what? To prove you are hard? What a joke...

July 27, 2011 at 6:58 a.m.
countrykid1 said...

Yeah, Mr. Tough Guy. Welcome to da hood. You're going to da big house now.

July 27, 2011 at 8:09 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

He estimated that there were 500 members of the “Rollin’ 60’s” in the local area.

And they say Chattanooga doesnt have a gang problem!?!?!

July 27, 2011 at 9:06 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

He's still trying to look intimidating...daring the witness to testify...Well, I guess he got his answer...

So long, LOSER! Hope your entire life behind bars was worth it...

July 27, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.
WEBMAN said...

WOW. We don't have a gang problem.LMAO.Why would you put someone like this in jail for life, he needs to get the chair.Quit the games, fry this punk and watch the murder rate drop.

July 27, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

I'm tellin you, if we adopted the "life for a life" concept and stuck with it consistently...the homicide rate would plummet. Once these thugs see that we mean business, even they are smart enough to figure out "Hey this really isnt worth it" But as long as we (the justice system) continues to give these thugs an out or an all expense paid room and board, they arent gonna change. And its only gonna get worse. Make this punk an example. Set the standard.

July 27, 2011 at 9:58 a.m.
hcirehttae said...

Where's Lonta Burress Sr. all this time? Good question, huh?

July 27, 2011 at 11:05 a.m.
prprincess said...

You have to understand the culture though. When you grow up in a world full of violence and poverty the only means of protection seems to be joining a gang. You can't afford to move away from it so, if you can't beat them, join them. We have to tackle the poverty and housing project issue before we can even begin to tackle the gang issue. When upper middle class 18 year olds go to college they want to fit in, have a place, be protected, so they join fraternities and sororities...i feel like its a similar idea and it is often a family legacy thing. Also, jail isn't so bad for kids in this culture. You can count on 3 square meals a day, something they can't at home. Many of their friends are there and they are safe from violence. Hm? Doesn't seem so bad when you consider the alternatives. Sure they don't WANT to go to jail, but it is a fact of life for many young men in the inner city community. It isn't a matter of if you go to jail, its when. That is what a friend of mine who grew up in the inner city told me. He joined the military and is now pursuing a college degree in criminal justice. I admire him so much. So try to read about these cases and think about the underlying issues and the culture, makes you think about it a little differently.

July 27, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Nope, not me. All i see is a thug who is angry at the world and will stop at nuttin to punish those who get in his way. A no regard to personal life punk. We should be able to line em up in front of a firing squad and let him die the same way he took life. A life for a Life. Then once the crime rate drops, see how much the poverty and living conditions change in these crime plagued areas.

July 27, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.
observer279 said...

Great comment prprincess. Thanks

July 27, 2011 at 11:47 a.m.
dao1980 said...

One tough buddy fer sure.

July 27, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.
RickD said...

Born a Thug - being a Thug. It's in his nature. 1 more year and he'll be in the big Pen, see how tough he is then. There is a always options. Shooting and killing shouldn't be the best/only choice.

July 27, 2011 at 12:39 p.m.
TieraBall said...

Let's not go overboard here. He's still a kid, no matter how many lives he's taken. The solution is not to make an example out of him by sending him to the chair... That's not right. He's still a kid and may still have a chance at some great career opportunities.

The solution is stop talking crap about the issues going on and actually do something about it. I'm pretty sure I've said this before::: poverty creates misery, misery loves company, company creates chaos, chaos evolves into violence, violence equates to deaths. Don't talk about it, be about it. There are several different organizations that are trying to stop the violence. None of them are really getting the point to people quite like yourselves who sit and talk about the issues instead of standing against them, joining any one of these organizations and movements.

These kids need people that they can talk to... they need people that they can count on. These children (YES CHILDREN) need father and mother figures, mentors and supporters. They need support systems and realistic role models. They need places that are drug free, pressure free, violence free, gang free to hang out at. They need to be surrounded in positive and encouraging environments. Read Understanding a Framework for Poverty by Ruby K. Payne and you would understand why all of this is going on. When you finish reading that book, join a movement. Cease Fire Chattanooga is one of many.

July 27, 2011 at 1:18 p.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Cause that approach is working so well, Tiera. I wish it truly was that easy, buts its not. And no, the lets "adaopt a program" em to death isnt working and isnt going to. The only way to wake these thugs out of this stupor is to have actual consequences and make them truly responsible for their own actions. Until the day comes where they know that if they take a life they lose theirs, in a painful barbaric way, not a now go to sleep my lil baby kinda way, they will continue living the gangsta life. Yes they need fathers, real fathers, to step up and show them real love. When they are children. But for the most of them, they are beyond that stage of help. Now its time that we make them pay the piper. A life for a life.

July 27, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.
PaulWilson said...

He will be singing a different tune when he gets to prison and becomes some big dudes' girlfriend. He killed someone,now he will get to endure his punishment...

July 27, 2011 at 1:56 p.m.
prprincess said...

The point I was making bigbearzzz is that jail isn't really a good consequence for them. The thought of jail terrifies me as it does most people. My life would be ruined. For them, it already is, so what's the point? I agree he needs consequences and it is unacceptable to take another life no matter the circumstances, but jail isn't working and neither does the death penalty. Die on the streets or die by the law...either way its an end to misery. All we do is feed into a system that creates criminals and then spends tax dollars "punishing" them. It isn't working clearly.

July 27, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.
demure said...

instead of sending the national guard halfway around the world why not send them to the most troubled parts of town conducting sweeps for illegal guns controband ect. while rounding up the 500 or so gangstas and sending them with a one way ticket to a northern alaskan workcamp before its to late for normal tax paying law abiding citizens before its to late before its to late. why not? because it would make too much sence and it would be racist

July 27, 2011 at 4:12 p.m.
pablorip said...

When a KID makes an adult decision i.e. taking a life, then that KID should also take the consequences of that decision. Where in the hell are the parents? That is the problem the parents of the great 60's revolution not only opted out of society then but is not opting of the parenting responsibility now. Spending the rest of his life in prison is far worse than "RIDING THE LIGHTNING" in the chair. Although that option isn't availble any longer. As for the 500 thugs; they are solving the problem one by one.

July 27, 2011 at 4:29 p.m.
mystyre said...'s, also, unconstitutional.

July 27, 2011 at 4:36 p.m.
joepulitzer said...

"That's not right. He's still a kid ..."



July 27, 2011 at 5:37 p.m.
01centare said...

prprincess, you have some very good suggestions. Only, these crimes have no preference to people living in public housing. That's a misconception everyone's had for quite some time.

I'd rather have social psychologists and psychiatrists coming in rather than police. It's quite obvious police rough tactics over the years have failed and to a major degree have contributed to the problems escalating. The preachers just want to look good in their suits and play to the TV cameras. Most everyone involved pretending to help have only exploited the problems for self gain.

July 27, 2011 at 7:22 p.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

My Goodness! Where to start? No wonder we are in the shape we are in! prprincess...on behalf of some one who grew up poor and all my poor family and friends we are offended. I cant think of anyone one of us who went out and shot and killed someone because we grew up poor. Some where along the line poverty became an excuse for bad behavior. Dont know why but it has. There have been many that grew up poor and or in public housing that did not have to join a gang or commit a crime and made something of themselves and have become successful. Another thing i am tired of is hearing about the"culture". We are all Americans. Mexico would be a different culture...Ireland...Africa..etc. Those wouldbe different cultures.Social statuses are not different cultures. Coming from some one who is around this so called "culture" difference i can speak of it. And who ever it was that suggested a theropist needs to go down and talk to people. If you are ever a theropist...if you are ever a theropist...if you or a family member are ever a victim of a crime/violent or your therpist and see who responds...police or theropist. Let me help you understand this and its free of charge. Excuses for bad behavior, the word personal responsablitity being non exsitant and the lack of proper parenting has developed this increasing problem. There are so many programs out there to help people. some are good and some are just a waste of money. until we quite making excuses because some one is young or because they are poor then read your books and call your theropist and hope for change!

July 27, 2011 at 8:25 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

Here's a solution: Start a war. Round'em all up and ship'em out. That way they'll be called heroes for killing rather than criminals. They might even get a ticker taped parade in their honor upon return. And if they just so happen to get turned on to killing? Well, we can chalk it all up to the stresses of war. Call it PTSD and medicate'em. Problem solved!! ;

July 27, 2011 at 9:39 p.m.
prprincess said...

I didn't grow up poor but i grew up with people who did. I grew up in an inner city church with an inner city youth group. The majority of the kids have spent time living in public housing. I worked in an inner city elementary school for a year and the kids candidly spoke to me about the fear of what middle and high school would be like for them in such an environment. The kids I grew up with, my friends, my brothers (as they call themselves) are great people, not a bad bone in their bodies many of them. But they still associate themselves with the neighborhood gang. Where the colors, show the sign. One of my friends is now spending his life in jail for murdering a cab driver for his gang affiliation. I went to camp with these kids and my little sister goes to camp with their younger siblings. There is such hopelessness for so many of them. Not everyone is hopeless no. Another friend of mine recently graduated pre-law from MTSU. She is a fighter like no one i've ever met. Another young lady will be attending MTSU in the fall having had all the males in her family murdered because of gang affiliation. There are success stories and stories of heartbreak, but no matter the story, everything is a struggle. I don't think therapists are the answer either. I have no idea what the answer is. Things are so messed up its hard to say. But what isn't helping are people who say "why don't they just get a job" because its just not that easy. Or, people who say "let them kill eachother off" because that just brings devestation to a community and leaves children without fathers. Or, people who ignore the problem because they get to live far far away on the mountain tops or the suburbs. No one should be making excuses for anyone, but people should be trying to help in whatever way they can. Mentor a child, help out in the schools, help a mother provide for her children. Do something!

July 28, 2011 at 9:18 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

WHEW!! Where to begin..?? sound as if you are a very nice well educated person...but I'm afraid you are "looking thru rose-colored glasses" at the problem. I'm afraid "the problem" has gone on for so long that we are past the answers you suggested. The jails are so overgrowded with the (mostly) inner city populations that we are looking at BIGGER jails/prisons to house these people.

I lay the blame at the feet of the parents who were raised by their parents who left ALL responsibilties on someone else to raise these kids...namely the Street. And then the gangs! THEY gave 2-3 generations of kids a "home". The parents and grandparents are mostly to blame...but NO FATHERS in these households are truly the biggest reason we are now faced with these wannabe THUGS!!

TieraBall...who do you suppose will provide all of the support and gang-free help you suggest?? The parents can't...the "black leaders/community" won' maybe it would be...oh let's say...THE TAXPAYER!?!? The White Man?!?! Oh! Wait! The white man is the "reason" for all of this...he's racist afterall...

talkthetalk911...I agree...the responsibility is on the "culture"...the inner-city needs to quit making excuses for something that is their fault!! There are many many good programs out there that can and will help...get up off your butt and find them! You will be a better person for it!

But, I'm afraid this young man is a lost cause...he SHOULD be sentenced to death...he will ALWAYS be an angry person and he will ALWAYS be a threat...

July 28, 2011 at 11:09 a.m.
amnestiUSAF84 said...

eastridge8, you were making sense until you started to ramble about taxpayers and white men. Are you saying on white men pay taxes? As a white man myself, I resent you insulting my African-American friends who are hard working taxpaying citizens.

prprincess, you seem to be one of only a few with a voice of reason here. I agree with you that poverty doesn't make one a criminal. However, being poor often determine how individuals are treated, labeled and viewed in society. I do believe there's a connection with these angry young men acting out with violent behavior and how many of them have been treated by others. There's no difference between them and the abused child who goes on to become the abuser. That doesn't imply that every child who is abused will grow up to be an abuser themselves, but there is a greater chance of them becoming abusers.

July 28, 2011 at 3:48 p.m.
fedup350 said...

You mean a black man killed a black man in Chattanooga? Where is the outrage? Where is Jo Ann Favors? Where is Tommie Brown? Where is Jesse Jackson? Where are the black leaders in Chattanooga? What are they going to do about this? Where are the Feds? Arent they going to investigate this and put this murderer away for life like they are going to do to the three drunk firecracker throwers?

July 28, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

USAF84. While you and everyone else is certainly entitled to your opinion i am some what confused about how poor people are treated, viewed and labled. Who are you talking about? Some of the greatest success stories are people who grew up poor and pushed their way through life to better themselves and or their familiy. I would say that many of those had strong family values that assisted them along the way. No doubt that those values are declining as time goes on. A "street Gang" in my opinion is nothing more than a terrorist organization. They do not collect their money through hard working honest jobs. They obatain their money by illegal drug sells, gun sells, robberies, burglaries,car jackings..etc. Menbers have to earn their way through the ranks. Time in jail and prison are badges of honor.Crimes cimmited are points within to progress through the ranks. So to me its not so much how they are labeled, viewed or treated but how they view and treat others. But next time you see a gang of 20 or 30 hanging around go give them some money since they may be poor and tell them that your worried about how they may be labled, viewed or treated. Good Luck!

July 29, 2011 at 9:37 a.m.
mystyre said...

'Some of the greatest success stories are people who grew up poor and pushed their way through life to better themselves and or their familiy.'

the common theme with these success stories is it takes an abondance of resources to overcome such obstacles as poverty, discrimation, morality, etc. yes, we see them smile on pictures with the 'yes, i did it. you can, too' message. however, what we do not see is the countless hours of discipline, the social rejection, the hardships of circumstances, and so forth. consistency takes a lot of effort.

and we're all discussing what we want for our youth, which is what most adults do. has anybody asked these youngsters what they want for themselves?

July 29, 2011 at 4:45 p.m.
talkthetalk911 said...

mystyre...i have to disagree with you. there are more programs out there than ever before. if most people researched just how many programs are out there for minority groups (since i think thats who you were refereing to)they would be amazed. Throwing money into programs like we have doesnt seem to be working now does it? And as far as mom had two children and my father walked out when we were toddlers, she attempted to get welfare approx 35 years ago and was denied and was told it was because she was white. So hows that for disrcimination? we did not have all these "programs" and i consider myself successful. im not rich by any means but i provide for my family and contribute to my community in one day than alot of people do their whole life.just to toot my horn.

July 29, 2011 at 8:24 p.m.
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