Suspect: ‘Not guilty’

Published 9:39 pm Friday, August 13, 2010

A 19-year-old Suffolk man who is facing the death penalty pleaded not guilty to seven felony charges Friday.

Christopher Jonta Artis entered the pleas and requested a jury trial through his lawyer. The trial is set to be held next June. Douglas Ramseur of the Capital Defenders Office recommended setting aside two weeks for the hearings.

Artis is facing the charges in connection with the July 8, 2009, murder of John Price Jr., 50, a newspaper carrier for the Virginian-Pilot.

According to police, Price was killed in the 100 block of Brewer Avenue about 4 a.m. that day as he delivered the paper. Officers responding to calls of shots fired found Price lying in the roadway, with his van stopped nearby. The driver’s door was open, and the engine was running, police said at the time.

He still was clutching a newspaper in his hand, neighbors said.

Artis spoke at his arraignment only to answer Judge Rodham T. Delk Jr.’s questions.

“Do you understand that the maximum punishment for capital murder is the death penalty?” Delk asked.

Artis replied, “Yes, sir.”

Ramseur filed a total of 13 motions, most of which Delk said were standard in capital murder cases.

The motions included one to allow the defendant to make his court appearances in civilian clothing and without leg shackles. Ramseur said he was concerned that television and still cameras that might be allowed into the courtroom would capture Artis in his jail jumpsuit, thereby influencing public opinion.

Delk, however, denied the motion and said he would notify the defense if any media applied to have cameras in the courtroom.

Other motions, which Delk granted, included allowing Artis to be present during all proceedings, preserving evidence and precluding testing that might destroy it, and providing travel funding necessary for the defense to build its case.