Livingston — A Livingston Parish jury Thursday found Jerry Pinestraw guilty of second-degree murder in the 2014 beating death of his girlfriend, Nicole Ozment, at their home south of Denham Springs.
The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
That Pinestraw, 38, slew Ozment was never in dispute, but defense attorneys argued that he killed her “in the heat of passion” and argued for a lesser charge of manslaughter, which is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
The 12-member jury was divided, with two members dissenting with the majority. State law requires only 10 members for a verdict in second-degree murder cases.
In her closing statement, prosecutor Charlotte Foster emphasized the brutality of the attack and the sheer number of blows Pinestraw inflicted. Ozment’s fingernails were torn out; the pummeling liquefied fat in her legs; doctors couldn’t even count the number of times she was hit in the head, the prosecutor told the jury.
Pinestraw beat her with a metal pipe until it broke, then kept going, she said.
“I’m not going to ask you all not to punish this man,” defense attorney Vanessa Williams countered. “What I am going to ask is you punish him appropriately. … I’m asking you to find him guilty of the appropriate charge — manslaughter. That’s what was described to you.”
To that end, she painted Ozment’s death as a fight between her and Pinestraw in which they both attacked the other and that he killed her in a fit of rage.
Ozment’s injuries — with the possible exception of one bruise — were all recent, not evidence of long-term abuse, Williams said, though prosecutors had said Ozment reported Pinestraw for abuse before she was killed.
The day she died, Ozment and Pinestraw got into “a sudden, heated argument,” the defense attorney said. Pinestraw believed Ozment was cheating on him, but something else seemed to have pushed the argument into violence, though what is unclear, Williams continued.
She pointed to a statement made by one of Ozment’s children as evidence that Pinestraw killed Ozment in the heat of the moment. The child told law enforcement that she woke up to fighting and saw Pinestraw hit her. But she said the argument didn’t take place over a long period of time, and it didn’t stop and start again.
“That’s the testimony from the only eyewitness,” Williams said.
Foster disputed the defense’s version of events, saying the child may not have heard everything that happened. She also took issue with the claim that the beating was mutual.
“If (Ozment) hit (Pinestraw), there was no mark on him. He was whole,” the prosecutor said.
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