New York Times Stands By Alabama Murder Story; Brandon Miller Is Injured, And Jamea Jonae Harris' Mother Rips Nate Oats

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - There was one of the most talked about men in Birmingham, Alabama, quietly working in the media room at the NCAA Tournament South Region in the bowels of Legacy Arena.

One would think he would need an armed bodyguard around here more than Alabama star basketball player Brandon Miller did Wednesday for a practice and press conference.

This man working was New York Times' writer Billy Witz. He published a story Wednesday about a previously unknown fourth Alabama player at the Alabama Strip murder scene on Jan. 15. This struck a nerve in the University of Alabama camp Wednesday.

Alabama Camp Blitzes New York Times Story With 4 Denials

Over the next 24 hours, four entities associated with Alabama struck down the story with a type of vengeance not seen at Alabama since the Crimson Tide football team last won a national title in the 2020 season.

First was Alabama athletic department spokeswoman Jessica Pare, who called the story "inaccurate" on Wednesday in a statement:

"Based on the information we have, there were no current student-athletes present at the scene other than Brandon Miller and Jaden Bradley."

Pare would not speak to Witz after several attempts.

Alabama has also acknowledged that basketball player Darius Miles was at the murder scene. But Alabama kicked Miles off the team shortly after his arrest for murder.

Next was walk-on freshman guard Kai Spears on Thursday morning. Witz wrote Wednesday that Spears rode in the car with Miller when Miller delivered the murder weapon to Miles on the Alabama Strip after 1 a.m. on Jan. 15. Miles had left the gun in Miller's car.

According to Tuscaloosa Police, Miles retrieved the gun from Miller's car. Then he gave it to friend Michael Lynn Davis, and he shot Jamea Jonea Harris several times. Harris, a 23-year-old mother from Birmingham, died at approximately 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 15. Miles and Davis remain in a Tuscaloosa jail awaiting trial on capital murder charges. Return fire crashed the windshield of the car with Miller and Spears, according to the New York Times story.

New York Times Story '100 Percent Inaccurate'

Spears called the story "100 percent inaccurate" in an Instagram post. He added that Witz "had complete disregard for the truth."

But Spears did not give as strong a statement to Witz. In fact, he did not deny he was in Miller's car.

"I'm sorry. I'm not going to be able to speak about that," he told Witz in a non-denial denial.

Then Spears' father, Christian Spears, who is the athletic director at Marshall University in West Virginia, released a statement later Thursday. He said he was "incredibly disappointed in the irresponsible and false reporting by the New York Times." He added he was considering a lawsuit by saying he was "exploring all legal options at this time."

Witz contacted Christian Spears for his story, but Spears declined comment.

And finally, a law firm representing the Spears family released a statement later Thursday, accusing Witz and the New York Times of "irresponsible journalism."

OutKick Speaks To New York Times Writer

OutKick approached Witz in the Legacy Arena media work room Thursday afternoon, and he agreed to visit for a few moments. Witz, a veteran sports writer at the New York Times, acknowledged he and the New York Times were standing by their story despite the voluminous Alabama denials. But he said he could not be quoted. He referred us to a New York Times statement on the story.

"We're confident in our reporting and stand by it," the newspaper statement said.

The New York Times updated Witz' story at 5 p.m. Thursday, but only to add the denials of the story by Alabama, Spears, Spears' dad and the Spears' attorneys. No other part of Witz' story changed.


Spears, a 6-foot-2 walk-on freshman guard from Pittsburgh, watched Alabama's game Thursday from behind the bench with other walk-ons out of uniform. No. 1 seed Alabama beat Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 96-75.

"Just crazy," Spears said in the locker room after the game when asked about the New York Times story, but quickly added, "I have not further comment."

The Tide (30-5) advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday against No. 8 seed Maryland (9:40 p.m., TBS). The Terrapins (22-12) beat No. 9 seed West Virginia, 67-65, Thursday at Legacy Arena.

Miller has avoided an arrest on accessory or accomplice charges since Jan. 15. Alabama coach Nate Oats has also not suspended or disciplined him for entering the scene with a gun in his car after 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Miller has rolled on as one of the best players in the country, nabbing SEC player of the year honors and first team All-American status.

Brandon Miller Held Scoreless

But on Thursday, Miller was held scoreless for the first time this season and under 10 for just the second time. It is likely not because of any distractions, though, He injured his groin in the SEC Tournament championship win over Texas A&M on Sunday.

Miller ran and moved well through 19 minutes, but he missed all five of his shots, including three from 3-point range. He had three assists and three turnovers and drew no fouls. Oats used 14 players in the rout.

Oats caught a glimpse of what his team would be like had he suspended Miller, although this was against a weak No. 16 seed that dropped to 24-11. He learned that he still has a lot of depth and talent without Miller.

"It was nice to be able to put up 96 without Brandon scoring a point," Oats said. "He's got a groin injury that he's been nursing since Sunday. We were trying to play him limited minutes. We were able to keep him under 20. Hopefully, he can get a lot of rehab today and tomorrow and look a lot more like himself on Saturday."

Murder Victim's Mother Criticizes Alabama Coach Nate Oats

Jamea Jonae Harris' mother, DeCarla Heard, meanwhile, said again Thursday that Miller should not be playing because of his involvement with her daughter's murder.

"If he needs armed security, he should not be playing," she told Leland Vittert of NewsNation on his nightly show called On Balance. "Coach Oats is only concerned about protecting his asset, Miller, not the safety and welfare of his teammates. If the tournament had been held in another city, you would not have that officer on that court! It's only because this is the city where she (Jamea Jonae Harris) lived. The school deemed it necessary to have extra protection."

Heard also took issue with Oats deciding on the armed security for Miller because that is what he would do if he had a son.

"Coach Oats should not refer to his players as his sons because Darius Miles was once one of those sons," she said. "He was quick to throw him away because he wasn't as useful as Miller."

Written by
Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests. A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention. Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at, and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.