Two Gulfport men found guilty of 2016 capital murder

Two Gulfport men found guilty of 2016 capital murder
Robert Emil Hart (left) and J’Var Vontou Pope were found guilty of an April 6, 2016 shooting that killed 54-year-old Mitchell Weathersby. (Source: Gulfport Police Department)

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - After five days of trial, two men were found guilty Friday of a 2016 Gulfport shooting that left one man dead and injured two others.

Robert Emil Hart, 26, and J’Var Vontou Pope, 27, were found guilty of an April 4, 2016 shooting that killed 54-year-old Mitchell Weathersby. Eugene Weathersby and Jerry Lee Lewis were also injured during the shooting on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Pope and Hart robbed three unarmed men at gunpoint. The victims were playing dominos when they were approached by Pope and Hart around 8 p.m. who demanded their money. After Hart stole money from the victims, Pope shot all three with a shotgun, and the two fled. Two of the victims survived their wounds, but the third died on the scene shortly after being shot.

State Medical Examiner Dr. Mark LeVaughn testified that Weathersby was shot in the back, and pellets from the shotgun penetrated multiple organs in his chest and abdomen.

Witnesses testified that Hart and Pope were overheard planning the robbery earlier that day. Testimony showed that Hart was one parole and had on a GPS ankle monitor at the time of the murder, which placed him near the scene at the time of the crime.

Other witnesses testified that the defendants were picked up from a house right across the street from the scene, shortly after the murder. Multiple witnesses also overheard Pope discussing getting rid of a gun in the days following the murder.

Additionally, an expert from the Mississippi Forensics Laboratory testified that shotgun shells found at the scene of the murder had similar markings and were cycled through the same shotgun as shotgun shells found at Pope’s grandmother’s house, where he frequently visited.

Hart was arrested in June of 2016. At that time Pope was developed as a person of interest. He was located in Bay St. Louis and brought into custody in August.

Following the verdict, Judge Larry Bourgeois sentenced both defendants to life without parole for a charge of capital murder, two counts of aggravated assault and two counts of armed robbery as habitual offenders.

Hart and Pope each had two prior felony convictions and were prosecuted as habitual offenders. Their life sentences must be served without the possibility of early release.

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