Fulton Man Sentenced To Seventy Four Years In Prison On Several Charges Including Second Degree Murder

The following case was heard on June 13, 2022, in the Circuit Court of Callaway County, Missouri, Division III, Honorable Kevin Crane presiding:

Justin Ray Witt, 51, of Fulton, was sentenced to 74 years in prison after being found guilty on March 31, 2022, in a jury trial on the charges of attempted possession of a controlled substance, attempted stealing by deceit, unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, murder in the second degree and armed criminal action.  A Boone County jury reached guilty verdicts on all of the charges following a three-day trial held in Columbia following Witt’s request for a change of venue.

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Witt had been charged with shooting and killing Nathan Pritchett, Jr., with a 20-gauge shotgun during a drug transaction.  Witt was with two other men, Joey Morris and William Schoening-Scoggins, in a borrowed vehicle when the group met with Pritchett on County Road 136 to purchase methamphetamine in the early morning hours of April 2, 2019.  The three men brought counterfeit money to the transaction.  Morris entered Pritchett’s vehicle while Witt and Schoening-Scoggins stayed in the borrowed vehicle.  Witt, who was previously convicted of the felonies of unlawful use of a weapon (2010) and attempted statutory rape in the second degree (2011), admitted that he brought the shotgun to the transaction and loaded it in the car, despite being a convicted felon and prohibited from possessing a firearm.  While in Pritchett’s vehicle, Morris provided the counterfeit money to Pritchett, who realized the money was fake, and an argument ensued.  Morris reported that Pritchett threatened him with a handgun and Morris fled Pritchett’s vehicle and ran back to the borrowed vehicle occupied by Witt and Schoening-Scoggins.  Witnesses reported that Pritchett stepped out of his own vehicle and began walking toward Morris’ vehicle.  Witt reported that he saw the handgun in Pritchett’s hand and heard Pritchett make threatening statements.  Witt admitted in an interview with authorities that he raised the shotgun while he was still seated in the front passenger seat and shot Pritchett through the driver-side rear window.  The blast hit Pritchett in the center of his chest and he died at the scene.

Morris, Witt and Schoening-Scoggins fled the scene in the vehicle they had borrowed and then split up.  Responding deputies and investigators processed the crime scene, interviewed an eyewitness and located the drugs that Pritchett was attempting to sale, as well as a toy gun – a cap gun – that looked like the handgun described by Morris and Witt and believed to be used by Pritchett during the drug transaction.  After the shooting, Witt returned to his residence and Morris and Schoening-Scoggins returned to a Fulton residence where they were staying.  Within three hours of the shooting, deputies located the suspect vehicle with a shattered driver-side rear window parked at a Fulton residence and took Morris and Schoening-Scoggins into custody.  Additional investigation led to the issuance of a search warrant for Witt’s residence that same day and investigators located the 20-gauge shotgun, shotgun shells and more counterfeit money.  Witt was taken into custody and had another 20-gauge shotgun shell in his pocket at the time of his arrest.

Morris, Witt and Schoening-Scoggins were all charged with murder in the second degree under Missouri’s felony-murder rule which makes a suspect criminally liable for the killing of any other person that occurs while the suspect is engaged in the commission of a felony offense.  Missouri’s self-defense law does not apply to homicides committed during the commission of another felony and charged under the state’s felony murder rule and the jury was so instructed.

Morris and Schoening-Scoggins had both previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the offense and each was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The jury found Witt guilty of all the charges, including murder in the second degree pursuant to the felony murder rule, after just over an hour of deliberation.  The judge accepted the verdicts and set the matter for post-trial motions and sentencing on June 13, 2022, back in Callaway County.  At today’s hearing, the victim’s mother gave a victim impact statement and the victim’s partner also provided a written victim impact statement.  The defendant called members of his own family testify on his behalf.

The judge overruled Witt’s motion for a new trial and sentenced Witt to 4 years in prison on each of the charges of attempted possession of a controlled substance, attempted stealing by deceit and unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  The judge sentenced Witt to 30 years in prison for murder in the second degree and 40 years in prison for armed criminal action.  The judge ordered that the 30 year sentence for the murder conviction run consecutively to the 4 year sentences and that the 40 year sentence for armed criminal action run consecutively to all other sentences for a total for a total of 74 years in prison.

The case was investigated by the Callaway County Sheriff’s Office with assistance by the Fulton Police Department.  The case was prosecuted by the Callaway County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.  Witt was defended by the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office.