Hinds County investigator remembered for courage, tenacity
Jul. 30, 2017
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Rebecca Pittman had no half-speed. She was all in.
When she was chasing down a lead, she did not rest until she had an answer, her friends said.
Pittman, in her 60s, died at her Jackson home the morning of July 22, surrounded by friends and fellow law enforcement officers. Her close friends said she wouldn't have had it any other way. Those not in her immediate circle didn't know she was battling cancer, but everyone who knew her knew she was a fighter.
"As an investigator, she gave it her all. She was like a pit bull. When she grabbed a hold of something, she didn't let go of it until it was solved," said Hinds County Sheriff's Department Investigator Trey Brister, her supervisor and partner. "The word 'quit' was not in her vocabulary."
Maybe that was because what got her into law enforcement was her experience as a victim. Judge Bill Gowan said he first met her when she had been the victim of an armed robbery. She worked the case on her own and brought it to the sheriff's department. Sheriff Malcolm McMillin was so impressed with her that he gave her a job.
Capt. Richard Brown, with the Hinds County Sheriff's Department, said Pittman was organized and thorough but never too busy to be helpful.
"She would always want to sit and listen to your ideas and always was wanting to help on cases," he said. "She would come in my office sometimes to tell me about her case and what she had, to go over it with me. She was always excited about her cases and solving crime. She had a personality that was just out of this world."
If you earned her loyalty, you had it for good. When she was working on an election campaign, she worked wholeheartedly.
She had political experience, having worked as a press secretary for a congressman in Washington, and many who worked on Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason's campaign said Pittman was the brains behind a large part of the operation that got him elected.
"She was one of those rare people who could relate to people from any walk of life, from some homeless guy on the street to people at a formal ball," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Fulcher. "When you see how many friends she had and the vast diversity of her friendships, you could tell she was one of kind."
"This is a sad day for the Sheriff's Department as we have lost one of our own," Maj. Pete Luke said in a short release put out by the department.
She was one of theirs, but she was a friend to many, and she made a deep impact on so many of those she met in the metro area. She had allies on both sides of the political aisle, too.
"She was a wonderful young lady, and I was thankful to have known her. She was a dedicated citizen in every respect," said Wirt Yerger, a Jackson businessman and longtime Republican. "I left her a message and told her I love her, but she died before she got the message."
It didn't matter who you were, if Pittman drew your case you knew she was going to give it her all, said Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal. He met her in the early 2000s when their cases overlapped, and a few years later, his mother and grandmother had their wallets stolen from their purses in a hospital in Jackson.
"She worked the case as if it was her own mother and grandmother, and she called with every update," Neal said. "She got to court and said she was not backing down ... She took a strong personal interest in it, and she does that for all her victims."
"She was an excellent investigator, she was extremely intelligent, she had a lot of tenacity," Gowan said.
"I'd say, 'You've got five good cases on this guy, why do you need six?'" he added with a laugh. "She would leave no stone unturned."
Neal called Pittman "a victim's investigator."
"No doubt. It wasn't one of these situations where she was going to do what she had to and let the courts do the rest, she was going to represent the victim until the case is finished, to do the best she could to get true satisfaction that the case was done right," Neal said. "They talked about a 'cop's cop' when you talk about administrators sometimes, and Rebecca was a victim's cop. If you were a victim of a crime, you wanted her being the head coach on your investigation."
Inside the office, her coworkers jokingly called her "Buffy," a reference to "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" television series. She was fearless, her friends said, and she put the job first, even over her own well-being. Gowan said there were times he worried about her because she was not afraid in the face of some really rough situations. But it never fazed her.
"I used to worry about her because of the fact that she felt that she was bulletproof," Gowan said. "But she had a lot of people that looked out after her. She had a lot of brothers, and I was just one of them."
It was her mission, though. In her own words to The Associated Press in 2004, "Grieving families deserve answers. Perpetrators deserve punishment, and victims deserve justice."
One of those investigations was the Ricky Franklin case in 2004-2012. Franklin was released from jail on his own recognizance in 2008 in spite of being charged with the murder of one of four women whose bodies were found in the woods near Edwards.
Pittman, whose work had led to the identification of another one of the victims who had been stabbed in the head with a screwdriver 48 times, testified that he was also a suspect in the deaths or disappearances of the other women starting in 1999, and that she had testimony from three witnesses that he told them he had killed a woman.
The judge went forward with his release.
A little more than a year and a half later, investigators found a naked, bloody and beaten 21-year-old woman in Franklin's rural Bolton mobile home. She claimed Franklin had raped her. He was ultimately convicted of aggravated assault and kidnapping.
Neal said when the body of a slain woman turned up in Ridgeland, he and Pittman talked about the possibility that it was Franklin's handiwork quite a bit.
"We compared notes. She said, 'John, I think Ricky's the one who did yours, too,'" he said. "She used to talk to me about that case frequently. She was trying to get anything she could on Franklin. She just needed that 'a-ha' piece of breakthrough evidence."
According to the Mississippi Department of Corrections website, Franklin is not eligible for release until 2033.
"Rebecca dedicated her life to serving the citizens of Hinds County," said Brister. "She was a child of God and a dear friend to many, and she will be dearly missed. We've lost a good one."
In spite of the tough things she saw every day, she still believed in people, her friends said.
"I think that came from confronting so much evil. She had this unique ability to see evil for what it was and then to see good where others didn't," Fulcher said.
Pittman, who as a sheriff's department investigator was given the 2009 Southern District of Miss US Attorney's Office Award for Distinguished Service to Law Enforcement, graduated in the first investigators class at the Mississippi Law Enforcement Officers Training Academy, Gowan said. Law enforcement became her family, as did another constant companion who stayed by her side for years.
"She loved animals, which is a mark of a real good person. She adopted an old dog on the street that she met up shortly after the armed robbery, and she named it Al," Gowan said. "He was a constant companion everywhere she went until he passed on."
"She was an outstanding citizen and a real patriot, and she could do most anything. She had tremendous talent," Yerger added. "She was absolutely special. It's heartbreaking. I still can't get over it."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com