Shooting case complicated by fugitive’s deathbed recovery

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

CORTLAND, N.Y. – The trial of a woman indicted for shooting a man on South Main Street in 2013 is slated to begin June 17 — the culmination of a case that includes a fugitive, a deathbed recovery and potential speedy trial issues.

Jury selection is set to begin at 9 a.m. in the trial of Shanessa V. Pittman, 32, who is accused of shooting of Jevar Sturridge in the arm on August 30, 2013 from the porch of a South Main Street residence. Pittman 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.

Speedy trial?

In a letter dated Monday, Chief Assistant Public Defender Thomas Miller tells Cortland County Judge Julie Campbell he believes Pittman has been incarcerated for too long without receiving a trial.

“A review of Ms. Pittman’s ‘RAP Sheet’ reveals that she has been incarcerated on as many as five separate occasions in connection with these exact Cortland County charges, and her last arrest on these charges has left her incarcerated for approximately eight months,” Miller writes. “I firmly believe Ms. Pittman’s speedy trial rights have been violated, and any further delay by the prosecution will only further this injustice.”

Miller wrote the letter in response to an April 19 letter by District Attorney Patrick Perfetti stating that one of his witnesses scheduled to testify at a pre-trial hearing on May 9 was diagnosed with cancer and may not be well enough to testify.

Miller asked the court to release Pittman if the case is adjourned, according to his letter.

District Attorney Patrick Perfetti stated Thursday in an interview that Pittman’s speedy trial rights have not been violated since her prosecution was delayed because she was a fugitive.

“The speedy trial statute requires that my office be prepared for trial on a felony within six months,” Perfetti explained. “The key aspect of the time period is when it starts and if there’s anything that stops the clock.”

Pittman’s time as a fugitive and subsequent incarcerations on other charges in Virginia stopped the clock on her speedy trial rights in Cortland County, he said.

“This case, quite frankly, has moved quite orderly,” Perfetti said, noting Pittman is facing a June trial following her extradition in October from Virginia. “That’s actually fast compared to some other cases.”

Campbell had not yet responded to Miller’s letter as of Thursday.

Extradition issues

Pittman was arrested multiple times on different charges after she fled Cortland in 2013 following the shooting and was convicted in at least one case.

In a Feb. 27, 2019 court ruling, Campbell noted Pittman’s fleeing from Cortland police in 2013, as well as her subsequent arrests and convictions in Virginia after the shooting. Campbell denied in that ruling to grant Miller’s request to reargue that eyewitness identifications should be precluded at Pittman’s upcoming trial.

“The court is not required to decide this motion in a vacuum and ignore the record before the court, including that the defendant fled the jurisdiction causing significant delay in this prosecution, the defendant’s post-2014 convictions and incarcerations in another state, and the defendant’s presumed whereabouts based on her criminal history report,” Campbell wrote. “In fact, doing so would require the court to overlook facts.”

Pittman has a 45-page criminal history, Campbell said at a January hearing.

Pittman was arrested in Virginia three times after the 2013 shooting, but was not extradited due to an issue with the arrest warrant, said District Attorney Patrick Perfetti during an interview Thursday.

In March 2017 Pittman was arrested in Stafford County, Va., Perfetti said, but he was not aware she was incarcerated there until after she was released and could no longer extradite her.

Last Spring, Pittman was again incarcerated at the Rappahanok Regional Jail in Stafford, Va., and was again released, Perfetti said.

Perfetti said he then reached out to the U.S. Marshals, the federal agency tasked with apprehending fugitives, why the local arrest warrant against Pittman was not holding her for extradition.

The U.S. Marshals said there was an error with the way the City Police Department placed the arrest warrant in the national database, Perfetti said.

When the city police first placed the arrest warrant into the national database in 2013 there was a technical issue with the way it appeared to other police agencies, but that issue was corrected within the first few days after the attack, said city police Lt. Michael Strangeway. During that time, no police agency found Pittman, making the snafu a moot point, Strangeway said.

Deathbed recovery

One of the reasons Pittman was not extradited after an arrest in Virginia is Pittman was hospitalized in 2015 after she was shot and was not expected to live, said Lt. David Guerrera.

“By all indications we had, she would not get better,” said Guerrera, adding police were told if Pittman lived she would be brain dead.

When police were told of her condition, the district attorney’s office, then led by Mark Suben, decided to rescind the warrant, Strangeway said.

“Then, lo and behold, she got better,” Guerrera said.

But the Virginia police had stopped watching her and the hospital did not notify the police of her recovery as asked, Strangeway said. When Pittman was released from the hospital, she walked out free.

But not for long.

Pittman was sentenced on May 11, 2017, to 20 years in Virginia state prison for embezzlement after she did not return a rental car to a friend who picked her up from the hospital in 2015, according to a Virginia Appeal Court decision upholding the conviction issued on January 8. All but one year and three months of the sentence was suspended, according to the decision. That means she was released after a year and three months, but could be sent back to Virginia state prison if she commits more crimes.

On July 16, 2018, a detective from the Newport News Police Department contacted the district attorney’s office, saying he knew Pittman was scheduled to appear at a court hearing and asking if Cortland County was still interested in extraditing her, Perfetti said. Perfetti said yes and Pittman was arrested when she appeared in court on Aug. 30.