Informants testify in murder trial

Published 11:10 pm Thursday, February 9, 2012

The testimony of jailhouse informants continued on Thursday in the trial of a 21-year-old Suffolk man accused of murdering and attempting to rob a newspaper carrier as he delivered his route.

Christopher Jonta Artis is on trial for capital murder and other charges in the shooting of John Price Jr., 50. Price was shot about 4 a.m. on July 8, 2009, on Brewer Avenue as he delivered copies of the Virginian-Pilot.

On Thursday, Charles Chambers took the stand and testified that Artis had told him about a shooting while the two were incarcerated together at Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

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“He said he shot him in the back of the head,” Chambers said. He also testified Artis told him he was using cocaine and marijuana at the time.

However, Chambers said, Artis did not tell him where the shooting happened or how the victim was employed.

Neighbors called 911 that morning when they heard gunshots. Price was found lying on the road clutching a newspaper in his hand. His van was in front of him with the driver’s door open, engine running and radio playing. There was a stack of newspapers on the passenger seat.

Chambers, like informant Michael Shutrump who testified Wednesday, said Artis claimed to be a member of the Crips street gang.

Artis’ defense team from the Capital Defenders Office in Richmond cast doubt on the informants’ stories by suggesting they are testifying in exchange for getting their sentences reduced.

The jury listened to tapes of phone calls the informants made from jail to loved ones.

In one call, Chambers told his son that he was testifying in a murder case.

“Some [expletive] say I might get immediate release,” he told his son. “I’m not sure though.”

The jury dropped down to 13 — 12 plus one alternate — when one juror arrived late and brought a doctor’s note on Thursday. The juror was excused from service.

The trial is scheduled to continue through Feb. 24.