Trial nearing for woman charged in 2013 Cortland shooting

Shanessa Pittman in 2011 (Photo provided by City of Cortland Police Department)

CORTLAND, N.Y. — Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell ruled Friday the extensive criminal history of a woman indicted for shooting a man in 2013 on South Main Street—including her August sentencing to 20 years in Virginia prison for stealing a vehicle—cannot be introduced by the prosecution at her upcoming trial unless she testifies and it is used to show her dishonesty.

District Attorney Patrick Perfetti asked Campbell for permission to tell a jury about Shanessa V. Pittman’s past convictions when prosecuting her for the shooting of Jevar Sturridge in the arm on August 30, 2013. Pittman, 32, was indicted in 2014 by a Cortland County Grand Jury for second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree assault and first-degree reckless endangerment, all felonies, according to court documents. The indictment accuses Pittman of shooting Sturridge from the porch of a South Main Street residence.

Perfetti offered Pittman a plea deal that would allow her to plead guilty to first-degree reckless endangerment in exchange for a recommendation of state prison time on Thursday during a hearing in County Court. Perfetti said Monday he would recommend seven years in prison, the maximum sentence, but Pittman’s attorney would be able to argue for a lighter sentence in court. Campbell noted Thursday the deal was “certainly favorable” as it would remove the risk of a longer sentence for the violent C-class felony she is accused of, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, in exchange for a plea to the lesser D-class violent felony, first-degree reckless endangerment. According to state penal law, if convicted Pittman would face a sentence of three-and-a-half years to 15 years in prison for second-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Whether or not Pittman would be able to serve a New York sentence at the same time as her Virginia state prison sentence should she accept the deal was unclear Monday.

“As of now, I would assume that they would be consecutive sentences,” Perfetti said in a phone interview, adding she would likely complete her New York sentence before transferring to Virginia if the deal were accepted.

Perfetti said his office was not informed before Monday Pittman was sentenced to Virginia state prison.

Pittman was arrested on a warrant to appear as a witness in another case where she was the victim when she was taken into custody in Newport News, Virginia, Perfetti said. Pittman was not in prison at the time, he added. The Cortland County Sheriff’s Office brought her to the county jail on October 3, according to the correctional facility.

Pittman has a 45-page criminal history, Campbell noted at Thursday’s hearing. Pittman also fled while out on bail before, Campbell noted, telling Assistant Public Defender Kevin Miller that she would not reconsider bail. “There’s no chance she would reappear,” Campbell said.

Pittman fled city police after the 2013 shooting, traveling to Virginia, Delaware and California, according to court documents. Pittman was held on $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond bail in the County jail as of Sunday afternoon. In County Court on Thursday, Pittman appeared jovial, smiled and laughed at a joke she made to a corrections officer, and sported gray socks with large orange polka dots that matched her orange jail jumpsuit.

Campbell’s Friday decision listed 15 prior convictions for Pittman, as well as one suspended sentence revocation, starting with a March 6, 2006 assault and battery conviction and ending with an August 1, 2017 auto theft conviction.

Pittman was also sentenced to 20 years in state prison on May 11, 2017, for embezzlement after she did not return a rental car to a friend, according to a Virginia Appeal Court decision upholding the conviction issued on January 8.

Miller argued at the Thursday hearing perhaps not all of the convictions on Pittman’s record were actually committed by her as she had “been the victim of identity fraud.”

The seven aliases attributed to Pittman were all variant spellings of her first and middle names with the surname Pittman, Perfetti countered.

“The idea that this is identity theft is a bit of a reach,” he said.

In her Friday decision, Campbell noted Pittman had no proof her identity was stolen and the criminal history report attributed to her included copies of Pittman’s fingerprints.

If Pittman testifies, her use of seven aliases, two different dates of birth and two separate Social Security numbers would be relevant to a juror considering her credibility as a witness, Campbell found in her decision.

However, Perfetti cannot use her past criminal history as part of his case against her if she does not testify, Campbell ruled Friday.

“Generally, evidence of crimes other than the one charged is irrelevant and may not be introduced to prove guilt,” Campbell wrote in her decision. “Whatever probative value the defendant’s prior crimes may have is far outweighed by the obvious prejudice to the defendant and the very real danger that the jury would use this evidence to draw an impermissible inference.”

Should Pittman testify, Perfetti is allowed to question her about 11 of her 15 prior criminal convictions listed in court documents, according to the decision. Campbell barred Perfetti from asking Pittman about a March 6, 2006 conviction for assault and battery as “I find that the similarity between the nature of that crime and the crime for which the defendant is being tried increases the risk that it may have a disproportionate and improper impact on the jury.” Perfetti may not question Pittman about a 2007 conviction for using abusive language toward another, or her 2008 and 2010 convictions for using profane or threatening language on a telephone or citizens band radio, as Campbell found them “…of little probative value” and “unnecessarily prejudicial.”

In a previous court decision dated Dec. 7, Campbell denied Miller’s motion to dismiss the case in the interest of justice. Miller argued Pittman suffers from health issues after she was shot twice in two unrelated incidents, has no previous criminal convictions in New York state and there is no evidence Sturridge feels threatened by Pittman.

“The defendant’s continued involvement in gun related incidents, even as the victim, is of concern to the court,” Campbell wrote. Pittman’s prior convictions, no matter where they occurred, is also a consideration, she added. The indictment accusing Pittman of shooting Sturridge is enough to “…support the notion that the defendant posed a risk to the victim,” Campbell noted.

Pittman was wanted in 2013 by the Hampton, Va. police department for robbing a person at gunpoint and assaulting them, according to police press release. The Hampton Police Department advised in their release Pittman was “armed and dangerous.” It was unclear Monday if Pittman was arrested in this case.

Sturridge, a Jamaican citizen, was sentenced to a 15-year federal prison sentence on August 24 after he pled guilty to possessing heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine with the intent to distribute them, as well as possessing a loaded handgun and shotgun in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, according to a Justice Department press release issued at the time. Sturridge was also sentenced to eight years of supervised release as part of his April 10 plea bargain.

Sturridge admitted he had 48 grams of crack cocaine, 42 grams of powder cocaine, and 42 grams of heroin February 15, 2017, in his apartment in Massena, St. Lawrence County, according to the release. Sturridge also said he had a loaded Smith and Wesson .40 caliber handgun and a loaded Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun in his apartment so he could guard his drugs and drug money from thieves, according to the department.

Since Sturridge is a foreign national he will be deported after his prison sentence is completed, Perfetti said Monday.

After the shooting, Sturridge fled the city without giving a statement to police, he said.

“He was as interested in getting out of Cortland as Ms. Pittman appears to have been,” Perfetti said.

But, since medical personnel are required to report gunshot wounds to police, there is a record of Sturridge’s wounds and treatment, Perfetti said. There is also video tape of Sturridge showing off his wounds at a local convenience store, he said.