James J. Chatman

James J. Chatman | Eight felony cases and 45 cases altogether between 1997 and 2009. Suspect arrested on first-degree murder charges in connection with the fatal shooting of a man at 1114 N. College St.

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DECATUR — James J. Chatman, a 45-year-old career criminal who has served five prison terms, was charged Wednesday with three counts of first-degree murder for allegedly shooting 20-year-old James “Nate” Johnson to death.

If convicted, Chatman will be sentenced to a minimum of 45 years in prison to be served at 100 percent or a maximum of natural life in prison. He is being held in the Macon County Jail on $5 million bond.

His brother, Anthony L. Chatman, 43, who admittedly was at the near-northside apartment at the time of the shooting, was released from jail Wednesday morning.

Prosecutors decided not to charge Anthony Chatman. He was arrested March 11, the day after the slaying, on a warrant that also charged him with first-degree murder. He has been held in the jail since then.

First Assistant Macon County State’s Attorney Nichole Kroncke said Anthony Chatman has been cooperating with authorities.

“After reviewing all investigative reports and discussing the case with Decatur Police Department investigators, we are unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Anthony Chatman is accountable for the murder of Nate Johnson,” Kroncke said.

The victim’s family has been notified of the decision to release Anthony Chatman.

The Chatman brothers arrived together at an apartment in the 1100 block of North College Street at 11:18 p.m. March 10. They apparently went there to settle a dispute related to drug transactions between Nate Johnson and James Chatman’s 18-year-old son, Devante Hill, police have said.

A witness at the apartment at the time of the shooting told police that when the brothers arrived, he spoke with Anthony while James entered the apartment. He then heard three to five gunshots. Shortly after that, the witness saw James Chatman running down an outdoor staircase with a gun in his hand.

Both brothers fled the scene and were arrested the following day, after police obtained first-degree murder warrants against them.

Hill has been charged with felony obstructing justice in the case for lying to police following the shooting. He allegedly told police he had not seen his father or uncle on the night of the shooting. However, witnesses said he was with them immediately after the slaying. He is free on bond, pending arraignment.

James Chatman’s longtime girlfriend, Maleea Kareotes, 44, also was charged with one count of obstructing justice for providing false information to the police. Kareotes allegedly told police she was with James Chatman at a residence on Jasper Street when the shooting occurred. She is also free, pending arraignment.

A preliminary autopsy report showed Nate Johnson died from a single gunshot to his chest. First responders found him in the apartment unresponsive shortly after the shooting occurred.

James Chatman is scheduled to be arraigned on the first-degree murder charges at 10:30 a.m. today in circuit court. He also will be arraigned on two other felony counts: aggravated discharge of a firearm and unlawful possession of weapons by a felon.

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