Chapel Hill Man Pleads Guilty To Murder

It's been almost two years since Shawn Pickens of Chapel Hill was found dead in Smith County. This morning, Jamarcus Warren pleaded guilty to Pickens' murder. Prosecutors say Warren is one of three men responsible for the crime. During this morning's court proceedings, the 29-year-old was sentenced to 40 years in a state prison. He also waived his rights to an appeal.

Pickens was found dead from a gun shot wound inside an SUV in Smith County on January 15th, 2004. Prosecutors say the murder was gang related. Authorities say Warren paid 27-year-old Cornet Meekins with money and drugs to kill Pickens. Meekins is also on trial, facing a life sentence for Pickens' murder.

After receiving a call from the victim's family, the District Attorney's Office says it entered into a plea agreement with Warren. It says the Pickens family did not want to see the case go to trial. "You can't say, 'Their son was killed, but this makes up for it'," said Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham. "There's no sentence like that in the criminal justice system. They have to decide what they need to move on and get justice in the case and that's been the history in this office. We've always given great deference to the victim's family."

"It's a win, win situation," said Defense Attorney Buck Files. "The family gets closure, which they have obviously wanted. The state avoids a lengthy appeal. The defendant avoids the possibility of death in two cases and it's just good for everybody."

Warren is also involved in a capital murder trial in Gregg County for the murder of Andrew Johnson. Prosecutors say Warren will plead guilty next week. He faces 40 years in prison for that crime.

The Pickens family knew the plea agreement this morning meant Warren would not face the death penalty, but today the family got a chance to face Warren in court and bring closure. Kevin Pickens, Shawn's brother, had one word for Warren, "coward."

Pickens' family lives in Chapel Hill, down the street from where Jamarcus Warren grew up.  "Do you remember the 4th of July when I walked to your car and I told you my brother was in the back seat smiling," said Andrea Pickens, Shawn's sister, to Warren. "You were all going to pop firecrackers for kids, and I told you to take care of my brother because I thought you cared about him." What Warren truly cared about, prosecutors say was himself.

"Jamarcus is someone who is used to cars, money, you know calling the shots," said Bingham. "He's used to being able to get what he wants to get. He kind of lived this gangster life that he wanted to live." Prosecutors say Warren made more than $80,000 a week selling drugs, and they say the gang has been involved in several violent crimes.

"Whenever they told me my brother was dead, I called home," said Kevin Pickens. "It was real sad, real sad day. I asked mamma, 'You seen J (Jamarcus Warren)?'  Nobody seen him. Never did I know he would stab me in the back."

In October of 2001, prosecutors say Warren and Pickens robbed a bank together. As the FBI got further in their investigation, Warren grew more suspicious, thinking Pickens was talking to the FBI.

"Shawn Pickens was seen by someone coming out of a bank building where a law enforcement agency was located and that alone was enough to get him killed," said Bingham. Prosecutors say Pickens was not talking to the FBI, but it was too late.

"I had to go there and find his body slumped over in a car," said Hazel Pickens-Wheeler. "How do you think it made me feel?".

"Forty years isn't enough time for you to sit and think about what you put my family through, or what you put Andrew Johnson's family through," said Andrea Pickens. "It's not enough time."

The District Attorney's Office says this case is a milestone for the county. Warren was the last of the gang leaders to be sent to prison. Chapel Hill Residents say they are glad to see him off the streets.

"I think it makes it safer on the streets, especially for our kids that were buying," said Chapel Hill Resident, Amanda Cain.

"I feel for the family of the boy that was killed," said Richard Ott, a Chapel Hill Resident. "I really do. It's a horrible thing to think about that kind of thing here in Chapel Hill."

"If the family is agreeable to the final verdict, and it resolves things for them, that is probably the best way to handle it," said Bill Sparks, a Chapel Hill Resident. "It's unfortunate that it has to be done in the first place. Drugs are a terrible thing for our youngsters out here."

Molly Reuter, reporting.