by Steve Rogers/The Packet

A 20-year-old Lowndes County man is sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of his neighbor three years ago during a botched burglary of her home.

The plea deal to the reduced charge was one of several significant cases handled this week in Lowndes County Circuit Court, including another man sentenced to 20 years for three armed robberies and another man sentenced to a year for sticking his pit bull on an Animal Control officer.

In the murder case, Traveil Raymond Hicks pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of second degree murder. Judge Lee Howard accepted the plea deal and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.

An arson charge was retired.

Hicks originally was charged with capital murder in the death of Gwen Roberson, who lived just a few feet from the trailer where Hicks lived with his grandmother. Firefighters and law enforcement were called to her trailer for a fire early on the morning of Aug. 11, 2014, to a fire and discovered her home heavily damaged and her dead inside.

And autopsy revealed she had suffered blunt force trauma and had been stabbed in the neck. She was dead before the fire started.

Roberson was in the shower and interrupted Hicks’ burglary of her home. When she started screaming and confronted him, he hit her in the back of the head with the butt of a pistol and then a cast iron skillet. When she was still breathing, he stabbed her with a kitchen knife, according to court records. and stabbed her when she started screaming and confronted him. He then took a blanket from a couch and set it on fire.

In the robbery case, 20-year-old Curtis Clay Jr. was sentenced to 25 years with five years suspended leaving 20 to serve, for armed robbery.He also must serve five years on post-release supervision. Judge Howard ordered him to pay $1,129.87 in restitution, a $1,000 fine plus court costs.

Clay pleaded guilty to one count and two other counts were retired as part of the plea agreement.

According to court documents, Clay initially was charged with stealing $1,597 in cash and 40 packs of Newport 100s during the May 3, 2016, armed robbery of Jyotshana Patel, the clerk at Creek Stone Store on Highway 45 North. The same day, Clay is accused of robbing clerk Mecky Auybo at gunpoint at Land Road Food Mart. The final armed robbery came May 4 at the County Mart where clerk Wanda Hamby was robbed at gunpoint.

In the dog case, 28-year-old Matthew Nickels was sentenced to five years, with four years suspended and one to serve, for the reduced charge of simple assault on a law enforcement officer. He received credit for the time he’s already served in jail. He will spend four years on post-release supervision and pay an $800 fine and $80 in restitution under the order handed down by Judge Howard.

Nickels was charged following.a Feb. 3, 2015 incident in which Animal Control officer Alex Jones went to Nickels’ residence on Mason Road to tell him he had to keep his pit bulls tied up. While Jones was trying to talk to Nickels, he let a dog go and it attacked Jones and bit him on the upper right thigh. Nickels then closed the door to his residence rather than offer assistance, according to court records.

In another case, 34-year-old Anthony Stevenson was sentenced to 10 years in prison with five suspended, five years on post-release supervision and a $1,200 fine for aggravated domestic violence by strangling. He pleaded guilty to the Sept. 5, 2016, assault on his wife at their Alabama Street home. The couple’s children witnessed the attack, according to court records.

And finally, three counts of aggravated assault and one of cocaine trafficking against 31-year-old Brandon Orr were dropped after prosecutors said witnesses weren’t cooperating and said Orr didn’t have anything to do with the crimes.

Orr originally was arrested in May 2015 after Drug Task Force agents found more than 30 grams of cocaine in a house on Marvin Street during an April raid. The aggravated assault charges stemmed from a May 24, 2015 incident in which three people on a car were shot at.

Orr and 25-year-old Tony Martin originally were arrested in the shooting case.

But in papers filed this week, prosecutors said, “That the basis of the trafficking charge is a search warrant that was executed at a residence known as a ‘trap house,’ used for drug activity; further the basis for the aggravated assault charges involved victims who were with Brandon Orr when the search warrant was executed.

“That all witnesses involved in both incidents deny that Brandon Orr was involved in the drug trafficking and the aggravated assault,” Assistant District Attorney Lindsey Clemons wrote, noting all the witness are “uncooperative with the state regarding Brandon Orr’s involvement in both incidents, but name other indicted co-defendants as the guilty parties.”