Columbus, Georgia -- Columbus bike shop owner Jack Tant was found not guilty Thursday of the murder of a 15-year-old boy he shot as three youths attempted to burglarize his business.
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated 80 minutes acquitting
before the 74-year-old businessman, rejecting District Attorney Gray
Conger's plea for a conviction on either murder or manslaughter.
Tant smiled after the verdict was read in the packed courtroom, ending the
four-day trial and the 18 months of uncertainty with which he has lived
since the June 16, 2000, incident.
"I haven't had any fear from the start," said Tant, surrounded by his family and defense attorney Mark Shelnutt shortly after the trial ended. "I wasn't worried about it. I had a feeling it would come out good.
"But it shouldn't even have gone to court," he added.
Tant said he'll be back at work today at his bicycle and lawn mower
repair shop, "doing the same thing I've been doing."
Shelnutt said the verdict reflects what really happened that evening at
Tant's 1742 Benning Drive business.
"He went up to check on his business and was attacked by intruders. It's
nothing more than that," the defense attorney said. "I think when the jury
heard all the evidence, they saw that's what happened."
For Tamara Martin, mother of Jermaine L. Long who died on the path
between stacked bicycle parts at Tant's place of business, the verdict
brought tears, anger and frustration.
"It's not fair. It's not fair," she cried as she was consoled by victim's witness workers in the district attorney's office.
Later, as she left the Government Center, she protested that the system
didn't work as it should have.
"It's not fair. It was an all-white jury," she protested. "All-white. Not
one black. The white jury. The white man - everybody's white." Martin also
predicted more trouble on the horizon for the man who shot her son.
"He's gonna kill the next n----r that comes along," she said.
Conger said the system worked as it was supposed to work, with both
sides having a fair opportunity to present their cases.
"A verdict of not guilty in this case does not mean the system doesn't
work," the prosecutor said. "The police charged, the grand jury indicted
and the case needed to be tried.
"I can see how the jury reached the verdict it reached under the
evidence presented," Conger said.
The prosecutor and defense attorney discounted the significance of
having an all-white jury decide the case.
"The jury we had was a proper jury under the jury composition we had
that week," Conger said.
Shelnutt said the decision as to who would sit on the jury was made
after all potential jurors were questioned by the court and prosecution
and defense attorneys. Jury strikes were based on information received
from the individual jurors, not on race, he said.
When the two lawyers made final arguments to the jury Thursday morning,
Conger urged the jury to convict Tant of murder or manslaughter, despite
evidence that Long and his teen-age companions entered Tant's place of
business to commit a crime.
"Jermaine Long wasn't perfect," Conger said.
"He was a young man who, with some of his friends, went to steal some
bicycle parts. ... He was no doubt in the middle of a criminal enterprise
when he got killed.
"But that doesn't carry the death penalty," the prosecutor said.
Conger told the jury to decide whether Tant was really attempting to
prevent a felony when he fired the fatal shotgun blast that killed Long "
... or was his intention one of revenge, of payback, of 'I'm so damn mad
about these thieves that I'm going to shoot one.'
It wasn't necessary to shoot Long, he argued.
The three youths were there to steal, not to harm anyone, especially
when they were unaware anyone was there that night, he said.
Conger also reminded the jury that Tant didn't call 911 to report the
shooting until five minutes and 44 seconds after a neighbor had reported
the sound of gunshots. That gave Tant time to try to manipulate the scene
to support his claim of self-defense, he argued.
"He thought he had all the time he needed to clean up the scene," Conger
said. "He was covering up, turning the body over, putting a knife under
the kid's arm."
Tant was mad, he said. He was tired of being ripped off and he was out to
make someone pay, the prosecutor said.
"He wasn't preventing a theft - he was sending messages," Conger argued.
"He probably hasn't had a theft or a burglary since then. He's achieved
his aim, but at a tragic cost."
Shelnutt asked the jury to consider that Tant, a businessman who attempted to defend his property, is the real victim of the events of June 16.
"That this man is on trial for cold-blooded murder is an outrage," he told
the jury. "Your verdict should take about as long as it took for Mr. Tant
to react that night."
Shelnutt also told the jury to disregard a manslaughter verdict. It's only
offered by the prosecution as a lure toward compromise, when there should
be no such compromise, he said.
When Long and two other teen-agers jumped over the two fences and began
walking down the pathway between stacked bicycle parts toward Tant, they
spotted the bike shop owner, Shelnutt said. They knew the only thing
standing between them and what they wanted was a senior citizen - and they
kept coming, he said.
It's undisputed that Long carried a claw hammer and that when he was
shot he was facing Tant on the path, about 36 feet away, he said.
"The law doesn't say you have to stop and conduct an interview with the
intruders," Shelnutt said. "They were not coming in there to sell Girl
"If this isn't a self-defense case, there never has been one," Shelnutt
told the jury.
Even if it wasn't self-defense, there's no doubt that the three
teen-agers were intruders who had come onto Tant's place of business to
burglarize and to steal, if not to assault, Shelnutt said. Under state
law, that's all that's necessary for a jury to find that Tant was
justified in using deadly force, he said.
He asked the jury to exercise its right to find that Tant, acting in
defense of his place of business, is immune from criminal prosecution
under state law.
"Do what's right," Shelnutt concluded.
Contact Jim Houston at (706) 571-8566
Staff writer Meg Pirnie contributed to this report.
NOTICE: In accordance with Title
17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed, without profit, for
research or educational purposes. We do our best, as well, to give credit to the
original news source who published these Guns Save Lives stories out of respect
and appreciation for their willingness to spread the word that Guns Save Lives
-- and when an original link is available, we ALWAYS send all our visitors to
read the original article on the original site where it was posted. God Bless
the Americans that publish these stories - for assisting Americans in hearing
the truth about guns saving lives.