A Columbus man was sentenced to life in prison Friday after a Lowndes County Circuit Court jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
Jatavis Williams, 23, was convicted of the 2020 shooting death of Tarcari Walker. The jury deliberated for about two and a half hours after three days of testimony. The trial was heavily attended by the families of both men.
Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens delivered Williams’ sentence of life in prison, which is the only sentence the law allows for first-degree murder. When the sentence was announced, Williams’ friends and family — who packed one side of the courtroom — cried out in horror and rushed out.
Walker, 24, was killed on Nov. 9, 2020, near the intersection of Seventh Avenue North and 22nd Street at about noon. He was standing in front of his girlfriend’s house when he was shot in the chest. He managed to run onto the front porch before collapsing. First responders attempted CPR, but he died on the scene.
Williams turned himself in to authorities two days later.
The two men had known each other since childhood and grown up in the same neighborhood.
“The murder of Tarcari Walker was a sad thing, and a loss for both sides,” said District Attorney Scott Colom. “They were best friends. I think the jury listened to the evidence and saw through (Williams’) words and looked at his actions.”
“This is going to be one hell of an appeal,” defense attorney Amanda Meadows said immediately after the verdict, but declined to comment further.
She did not return a Dispatch phone call seeking comment later Friday afternoon.
During closing arguments, Meadows argued that Walker was under the influence of methamphetamine and had been acting erratically.
“This was a tragedy, not a crime,” Meadows told the jury.
Meadows argued that Williams had been invited over to Walker’s girlfriend’s house earlier that day, but that when he arrived Walker was angry and came outside and threatened him.
“(Walker) was walking fast, his eyes were bulging, he had a gun,” Meadows said. “… (Williams) said he was pointing the gun at his face.”
Williams drove off, Meadows said, de-escalating the situation. He got stuck in traffic backed up due to a train nearby, and saw Walker walking toward him with a hand in his waistband.
“He’s already put a gun in his face,” Meadows said. “Now he’s stuck, he’s trapped in his vehicle. (Walker is) walking fast, he looks aggressive. He testified that he had seen Tarcari hold a gun in his waistband many times.”
Fearing for his life, Williams shot one round at Walker and fled the scene, Meadows argued. After initially hiding out at a relative’s home, Williams decided to turn himself in.
Colom and Assistant District Attorney Benjamin Lang, on the other hand, argued Williams meant to kill Walker and cooked up the story about the train later.
“He turned around and came back,” Lang argued. “He could have left. He could have kept on driving to Starkville, or California if he wanted to. He came back. … He saw him on the phone in front of the house and he took the cheap shot. He intended to kill him.”
Walker did not have a gun, Lang said, and Williams is the only person who said the victim was armed.
“Williams didn’t see a gun (when he shot Walker),” Lang said. “He didn’t have a gun on him … He had his phone. But there is no evidence he had a gun on him when he was shot.”
Brian Jones is the local government reporter for Columbus and Lowndes County.
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