A Cook County judge on Wednesday sentenced 26-year-old Kristopher Pitts to five years in prison for the May 30, 2015, shooting death of Kevin O’Malley in Lakeview. Pitts will likely be paroled in 11 months after being credited for time served while awaiting trial and receiving Illinois’ standard 50% sentence reduction for good behavior.
A jury last month decided not to convict Pitts of either first degree or second degree murder in the slaying that prosecutors said stemmed from a late-night robbery in the 900 block of West Oakdale. Instead, the panel convicted Pitts of three counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Many people couldn’t believe their eyes when word of the verdict was reported on Aug. 30.
How could Pitts shoot O’Malley twice in a robbery and wind up with anything less than a murder conviction?
Now, a member of the jury that made the decision is speaking with CWBChicago.
“The story we heard was completely different,” the juror said while speaking on condition of anonymity. “Everything you read and see makes it sound like Pitts took the guy’s cell phone, then POP POP. That’s not what happened. It wasn’t like that.”
The juror, who spoke at length with a CWBChicago reporter this weekend, insists that the jury could only base its decision on the facts presented to them at trial.
“I really feel bad for the family. It was their son, their boyfriend, and it shouldn’t have happened.”
“I’m seeing these comments, ‘I hope the jury remembers this when [Pitts] commits another crime.’ Well, I can’t be deciding that. I only have what’s in front of me.”
“The prosecution,” said the juror, “did a sh***y job.”
The state “went for the brass ring. Murder. Now I’m reading that they dropped gun charges,” the juror said.
In fact, before the trial commenced last month, prosecutors dropped 14 felonies that had been approved by a grand jury. Tossed were five felony gun charges, three felony armed robbery charges, and six additional murder counts. The jurors never had an opportunity to consider the gun and robbery aspects of the alleged crime. Only three remaining murder counts were on the table.
A different story
According to the juror, defense attorneys argued that O’Malley approached Pitts after leaving a nearby bar at closing time. Prosecutors said O’Malley asked to borrow a cigarette. Pitts said O’Malley wanted to buy cocaine, but he didn’t have any money.
On the stand, Pitts recalled telling O’Malley, “you’re wasting my time.” Then O’Malley offered to do a deal – trading his phone for drugs, according to Pitts.
“Does it sound fishy?” asks the juror. “Yeah. It does. But people do weird sh*t when they’ve been drinking.”
“Is [O’Malley] a smoker? We don’t know. They never addressed if he smokes or does drugs. ’Oh, he would never do cocaine.’ We never heard any of that.”
Toxicology reports showed no drugs in O’Malley’s system other than alcohol. His blood alcohol content was .18, the juror recalled.
“One pack of something was found on the ground, but it wasn’t cocaine. None was in O’Malley’s possession. Where’d the rest of it go? We don’t know.”
Pitts’ attorney argued that O’Malley began fighting Pitts to get his phone back. The court was shown video captured on a bystander’s phone in which O’Malley and Pitts “squared off,” but the footage did not capture the physical struggle that followed, according to the juror.
O’Malley “got on top of Pitts and beat his face,” according to testimony the juror recalled. Pointing to swelling visible in Pitts’ mugshot, the juror said defense attorneys argued that O’Malley was “pounding on this guy. He was on top of him, pounding on him.”
Then, “a good Samaritan comes over to help…and that’s when it gets weird.”
“As far as the jury could tell, there was no gun out until after O’Malley began striking Pitts,” the juror said. “The gun falls out or [Pitts] pulls it out of his pocket. We’re not sure.”
According to the defense, Pitts didn’t know the Good Samaritan’s motives.
“He’s thinking, now I have two guys coming to pound on me, right?”
“Supposedly, the Good Samaritan tries to grab the gun and two shots come out.”
Pitts “got up, left his shoe, ran into a dead end alley, and climbed onto an L platform.” A police officer would arrest him there minutes later.
“The guy never brandished a gun before the [O’Malley] was on top of him. Why didn’t he get the gun out before? Why didn’t he take the phone and take off?”
The juror pointed to another piece of evidence that the panel could not explain away. Pitts knew the password to unlock O’Malley’s phone. It’s not clear when the prosecution learned that Pitts had that knowledge and the assistant state’s attorney tried to explain the fact away in closing arguments.
“It was 2-5-8-0. Straight down the [keypad],” the juror remembered the prosecutor say. “Anyone can do it.” But the assistant state’s attorney “seemed faux angry about it. He was dismissive of it.”
“He had the code. And the prosecution never disputed it or explained it.”
“Anyone could guess it, he said. Well, I don’t think so.”
“So, here’s the deal. Why didn’t Pitts run with the phone? How did he get the code to the phone? It all adds up to reasonable doubt. There’s a bucketload of reasonable doubt.”
Jurors deliberated for a couple of hours.
“There were several out of the gate who thought it was involuntary manslaughter.”
“The foreman was very good, breaking it down. For murder, it has to be this, this and this. It didn’t seem like anyone in the room was ready to get this guy on first degree murder.”
As for second degree murder? “There was no support for it. I don’t recall the parameters. We talked about it and kicked it back and forth. The support was not really there.”
“As scummy as this guy was, you can’t convict on that. We don’t even know if it was a true robbery.”
“I was dying to Google this guy because I had a feeling this wasn’t his first time dealing with the police,” but, of course, jurors could not do that.
“If I was ever charged with a felony, I would pray for a jury like this. I would hope I had a jury as moral and credible. It was a fair jury.”
“People are online saying we did a sh***y job. Not true. I am 100% convinced that any credible jury would have reached the same conclusion given the evidence we were given.”
The juror expressed dismay upon learning about the long list of charges that prosecutors dropped immediately before trial. “They did the CSI thing. ‘The bullet trajectory went up this way.’ But they never touched on anything that happened before the shooting. Only how Pitts took off [running].”
A police officer familiar with the case said there was “zero” evidence to support Pitts’ claims about what happened that night—the supposed exchange of an iPhone for a $20 baggie of street-dealt cocaine.
The evidence that O’Malley was robbed, fought back, and wound up being murdered was “overwhelming.”
“The jury believed everything Pitts said. Everything. The case was not explained to them as it should have been.”
O’Malley’s fiancee shared her feelings online after the verdict came back.
“To say that Kevin’s murder was an ‘accident’ is just appalling. Kevin was a successful young man with so much promise. There is something seriously wrong with this justice system to let someone basically get away with murder. [Pitts] stole Kevin’s future [and] stole my future with the man of my dreams.”
“An innocent person who accidentally killed [a man] does not run. They do not toss the gun. They do not run so fast they leave behind one shoe. With everything else tossed and left behind, the POS made sure he still had Kevin’s cell phone. A cell phone was more valuable to the POS than Kevin’s life. This was NO accident.”
At O’Malley’s alma mater, the University of Iowa has established a scholarship to be awarded to junior or senior accounting majors from the Chicago area. Applications from interested students must be received by March 1, 2020.
A million questions
“It broke my heart to see O’Malley’s family and friends go through this,” the juror said. “They waited four, five years and to get an outcome like this is devastating. We felt super bad for the family. I didn’t have a good night’s sleep that night.”
“If the jury was able to ask questions, I’d have a million questions. I would have loved to grill the prosecution and the defense. I would have loved to convict the guy on first degree murder. But the evidence was not there.”
Pitts was free on bail awaiting trial for threatening police officers with a machete when he killed O’Malley. At the same court hearing where Judge Thomas Byrne sentenced Pitts to five years for the O’Malley slaying, Byrne gave Pitts two years for the machete case. That sentence was immediately offset by 1,414 days credit for time Pitts served while awaiting trial.
A defense motion for a new trial in O’Malley’s case was denied.