Jury returns guilty verdict in Central Texas murder-for-hire trial

Tyler Sherrod Clay. (Jail photo)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A Hewitt man was convicted of capital murder Thursday in an alleged murder for hire that left another man dead, but a defense attorney has filed a motion for a mistrial.

Tyler Sherrod Clay, 29, was found guilty of capital murder in connection with the Dec. 23, 2015 killing of Joshua Ladale Pittman, 37, who was shot to death inside an East Waco convenience store.

The state did not seek the death penalty so the punishment would be standard if set at life without parole.

Prosecutors maintained Clay paid Kenneth Antinoe Spratt, 30, of Waco and Clay’s co-defendant in the case, to be the trigger man in the shooting but Spratt has neither been to trial nor chosen to plead guilty to the charge.

But one of Clay’s defense attorneys, Randy Schaeffer, has filed a motion for mistrial that delayed the court’s finding on Thursday.

Basically, the jury found Clay guilty but the judge has not yet.

Defense attorneys during trial objected to the presentation of some recorded while Clay was in jail that prosecutors said bolstered their case against Clay.

But because the state had not provided details of the recordings to the defense in a timely manner, the judge excluded them from evidence.

Earlier testimony from a man who worked at the Pick N Pay Food Mart, located at 504 Faulkner Lane, who’d been outside taking a break when a masked man entered the store, showed he was concerned about the man and was about to call 911 when he heard four or five gunshots from inside the building.

He said he went inside expecting to discover the store had been held up and the clerk behind the counter had been shot, but when he walked in he found Pittman wounded but still sitting in the chair he’d occupied earlier behind a video game he’d been playing.

A medical examiner from the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences, in Dallas, testified Pittman suffered four gunshot wounds and they, collectively, were the cause of his death.

Delayed by one week from the trial’s intended date, lawyers for both the state and defense made opening arguments Monday morning and quickly on the heels came initial testimony from the state in Judge Matt Johnson's 54th District Court.

The case was docketed to go Nov. 26, but an issue being able to get an essential state witness brought to Waco from federal prison custody slowed things down.

Prosecutors, in arguing for the delay, said the witness for whom were waiting was at the scene on the day of the shooting and he, in spite of the gunman wearing a mask, could identify Spratt as the assailant.

Arrest warrant affidavits read that Pittman robbed Clay sometime earlier in 2015, then Clay hired Spratt in retaliation to kill Pittman.

Other confidential sources identified Spratt as the killer and some told detectives Spratt was paid for the murder.

Police, on Dec. 23, 2015, found Pittman’s body inside the Pick N Pay Food Mart, located at 504 Faulkner Lane, a news release from Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

“During the investigation of Pittman’s murder, it was learned that Pittman had been involved in committing multiple robberies of individuals,” police said in a news release at the time of the arrests.

“It was also discovered that Pittman had set up Keith Spratt to be robbed and also robbed the second suspect, Tyler Clay,” police said.

“The two suspects in Pittman’s death, Keith Spratt and Tyler Clay then conspired to murder Pittman,” police said.

On the day of the shooting Pittman was playing a game machine inside the store when he was shot several times in the face and upper torso.

Spratt is held in the McLennan County Jail in lieu of bonds totaling $1.25 million, charged with capital murder, aggravated robbery enhanced, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, and on two felony warrants out of Travis County, jail records show.

On the day of the shooting Pittman had been playing a game machine inside the store when Spratt approached Pittman and shot him several times in the face and upper torso.

Spratt was arrested June 30, 2017 after a patrol officer spotted him walking in the area of North 10th Street and Colcord Avenue.

Clay was arrested the same day by Waco officers and members of the U.S. Marshal Task Force at a smoke shop he owns in the 1300 block of Dallas Street.