Amanda Brinker

Amanda Brinker

Brinker, 14, Died of Blows to Back of Head

Police still don’t know motive for attack

September 22, 2007

The Madison County Coroner’s Office has officially ruled the death of 14-year-old Amanda Brinker a homicide, and the lead detective in the case said the girl was struck multiple times in the back of the head with a vehicle’s jack handle.

The Madison Count Prosecutor’s Office has asked for an extra three days to file a formal murder charge against Jesse Lee Pitts, 20, of Anderson.

Pitts, who is being held in the Madison County Jail without bond, made an initial court appearance on Friday, where Madison County Magistrate Stephen Clase read the allegations police laid out in a probable cause affidavit against him.

“Do you understand how serious this is?” Clase asked Pitts, who was dressed in a black-and-white jail jumpsuit.

“Yes,” he replied.

Pitts was soft-spoken during the brief court hearing, answering Clase in single-syllable words with his hands resting on his lap. Clase gave the prosecutor’s office until Wednesday to file the formal murder count.

According to court documents and investigators, officers received a 911 call, purportedly from Pitts, saying he had found a body floating face down in the White River at Edgewater Park off 10th Street. Along the riverbank, police found Brinker’s body, which bore severe injuries to the back of the head. Detectives found her purse and Anderson High School identification card inside a trash barrel nearby. There was blood splatter on the nearby grass and leaves along the walkway next to the river.

Detectives became suspicious of the 911 call because the body had been covered and wouldn’t have easily been seen by passers-by, police said Thursday. Investigators got a search warrant for Pitts’ home in the 1600 block of Southwood Road and found a bloody shirt inside a plastic trash bag. In a car Pitts borrowed from a roommate, they found the jack handle with hair and hair follicles on it, according to court documents.

One of Pitts’ roommates, Jennifer Lawler, told investigators that Brinker, of the 2900 block of Helms Road, called Pitts before school Thursday. Pitts borrowed Lawler’s 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier and picked Brinker up at her bus stop, several AHS students told detectives.

Pitts told detectives during questioning that he and Brinker drove to Edgewater Park. The two were walking down one of the park’s paved trails smoking marijuana when Pitts hit Brinker in the back of the head with the jack handle that he carries in his car “for protection,” according to the affidavit. Pitts said he threw Amanda down from the top of a White River riverbank, and she must have then rolled partially into the river.

Detective Terry Sollars, the lead investigator in the case, said Friday that police interviewed Pitts several times Thursday over a 7-9-hour period. He said Pitts struck Brinker multiple times in the back of the head.

Sollars said that after killing Brinker, Pitts drove back to his Southwood home and told his live-in girlfriend, 20-year-old Barbara Howard, that Brinker was hurt. The couple then went back to the park for a short period of time and returned home, where Pitts called 911.

Pitts gave investigators several different accounts of what happened, Sollars said. At one point, Pitts claimed a stranger came up behind him and Brinker as they were walking and attacked them. Pitts fled, but he saw the stranger knock Brinker to the ground.

Ultimately, however, he admitted what happened, Sollars said, but still hasn’t been completely forthcoming.

“He cooperated to his degree, but not to ours,” the detective said.

Sollars said Howard could also face charges for not being fully cooperative with investigators, but that is still under investigation. When police questioned Pitts and Howard, it “brought more questions than answers (as) to how they actually located the body,” according to Sollars’ affidavit.

“I don’t think she understood the impact until she saw the body by the river herself,” Sollars said Friday.

He said Pitts still has not told investigators why he killed Brinker.

“Robbery certainly wouldn’t have been a motive, because she only would have had a few dollars for lunch or something,” he said.

Sollars said Pitts and Brinker met through mutual friends and had known each other “a few months.” He said the exact nature of the relationship wasn’t immediately known, but it was apparently strong enough that Brinker could call Pitts up early in the morning, and he would get out of bed to meet her.

“I don’t know what that means,” Sollars said.

Attempts to reach Brinker’s family were unsuccessful on Friday.

A man who identified himself as “James” during a phone call to Pitts’ residence said Howard didn’t want to talk and told a Herald Bulletin reporter to “lose this (phone) number.”


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