By Debbie Hall and Angela Jones
Jurors believed the prosecution’s narrative that James Robert “JR” Martin was murdered and recommended a 20-year sentence for Clarence Michael Eugene Peery, who was charged with first degree murder in connection with the March 6, 2018 incident.
Martin, 29, suffered gunshot wounds during an alleged domestic disturbance at a home located at 4374 Hardie Stone Road.
“A man cannot hunt down and kill another man, but that’s exactly what the defendant did,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman said Thursday when the trial got underway.
Martin was shot in the stomach and fell, he crawled to a side yard where he was shot twice more, once in the back and once in the head, Vipperman said. After Martin got into his Honda Civic to leave the home, four more shots were fired into the front windshield of the vehicle, she said. A final shot was fired into the rear of the vehicle.
He left the home and headed east on Hardie Stone Road, crashing just inside Henry County, at the intersection with County Line Road, and was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.
Vipperman said Martin and Peery’s sister, Amanda Peery, had a child together and an on again, off again relationship. By October 2017, the two were basically separated, she said, adding that Martin was to have their son on weekends.
By January the two had reconciled and were expecting a second child at the time of the incident, Vipperman said, adding that on March 6, Martin had planned to attend a class at Piedmont Community Services. Vipperman said the class was not court ordered, but “because he wanted to show” that he was a good parent.
Amanda Peery went with Martin to the class and while they were out, they had lunch and bought their son a toy. An argument started at some point and continued after they got to the home, Vipperman said.
During that argument, Michael Peery called his sister, and realized she was upset, according to testimony. He decided to drive to the home, taking both a shotgun and a rifle with him.
Armed with one of the weapons, Michael Peery walked onto the porch of the home, saw Martin in a bay window and what Peery thought was an elbow striking another person, Vipperman said.
Michael Peery then took a position beside the door and waited, “finally, JR comes out holding his 3-year-old son on his hip,” and asked something like “‘what are you going to do, shoot me,’” Vipperman said.
The first shot struck Martin in the upper stomach area on the left side, and Martin fell to the ground, Vipperman said.
Amanda Peery got their son while Martin is “on his hands and knees, crawling away … This wound may or may not have killed him,” Vipperman said.
As he tried to crawl away, Martin was shot twice more, once in the back on the left side. The second was a head shot that grazed his scalp, she added.
“The back shot alone could have killed him,” Vipperman said, adding that after Martin got into his car, “the defendant fired again and again and again and again, four more times through the front windshield in the driver’s seat, where JR was sitting.”
Amanda Peery called 911 after Martin pulled out of the driveway, Vipperman said. After the crash, Martin got out of the vehicle, “stumbled, fell there and died.”
Michael Peery “told police he was scared that JR was going to kill his sister or himself” and alleged the shooting incident was self-defense, but no weapons were found on Martin, in his car or in his home, Vipperman said.
Authorities also testified that no weapons were found near the scene of the crash.
“The defendant chose two guns … waited outside the door and shot an unarmed man holding a child. All that adds up to first degree murder,” she said.
When Michael Peery took the stand on Friday, he said he called his sister on March 6 because he wanted to borrow a car to go to a job interview. She answered the phone sobbing, he said, and soon after, the phone was turned off. He said he went to the home with weapons in tow because he thought the problem may be with an animal. He added a first aid kit was already in the car.
At the home, Michael Peery said he saw Martin’s car, and that the engine was running, and the door was open. Climbing onto the porch, he said he watched briefly through a bay window, and knew an argument was underway. He said it appeared that his sister was hit in the abdomen.
He then got off the porch and waited until Martin emerged with the toddler, which was often described as a “baby.”
Michael Peery testified that he saw Martin yank the child and saw the toddler’s head snap. He directed Martin to “put the baby down. Put the baby down” and leave the home, but Martin allegedly held the toddler upside down by one leg, with the child swinging in mid-air, and said “you ain’t gonna shoot me,” Michael Peery said, adding that Martin did not stop until after the first shot.
Then, Martin stumbled back, and Amanda Peery took the child, Michael Peery said, and testified that he told Martin to sit still to minimize the damage caused by the shot while waiting for medical help.
Martin opted to crawl to the side yard and to his car. When Martin reached over into the passenger seat, Michael Peery said he thought he was reaching for a handgun.
Martin wasn’t in his right mind, Michael Peery said, adding that he was afraid for the safety of his sister and her unborn child, his nephew and himself.
However, he said he did not go to the home with the intention of shooting anyone or anything, “not even an animal if I didn’t have to.”
Michael Peery also was found guilty of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The jury recommended a three-year sentence – the mandatory minimum – on that charge. A third charge of child endangerment was dropped.
A formal sentencing is set for July 17.