NEWPORT-Circuit Judge Ben W. Hooper II will sentence a 21-year-old Grassy Fork man in February after accepting his guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter on Tuesday.
Woodrow Charles Black, 21, of 4555 Haire Road, Hartford-who had been indicted by the Cocke County Grand Jury for second-degree murder-pled guilty Tuesday to the lesser charge in a plea agreement with state prosecutors. The victim in the case was Edward Joe "Eddie" Mills, 56, of 435 Dean Road, Jefferson City, who was shot to death at Black's residence on November 18, 2002.
Assistant District Attorney General Tracy Stone said Mills was a guest in the defendant's home when the shooting occurred, apparently in the early morning hours.
Mills, who was a friend of Black's father, came to visit the Blacks on November 14 and had been staying with Woodrow Black in his mobile home beside his father's house in the Grassy Fork community. The pair spent most of their time watching movies together, playing video games, and listening to the radio, Stone told the court.
Mills-who witnesses said had been seen armed with a small .22 caliber pistol-and the defendant argued several times during the day of November 17 and were alone when the shooting occurred. Therefore, Black's statement compared with the physical evidence provide the only information about what happened that day.
Black told authorities that at some point during the day, Mills had fired a single shot from his pistol at the defendant. The fact that a shot was fired from a small-caliber weapon was confirmed by a fresh bullet hole in the wall of the trailer, Stone said.
At that point, Black left his residence and returned later to find that Mills was still there, according to the defendant's statement. The argument continued both inside and outside the mobile home.
Inside the residence, "the two began to tussle over the gun and at some point, the defendant got a 12-gauge single-shot shotgun and came back into the living room," Stone told Judge Hooper.
"They continued tussling over the gun and at some point [Black] stepped back into the kitchen and fired," the prosecutor continued. The shotgun blast struck and killed Mills.
Stone said there are several discrepancies in the evidence in the case, including the time of the shooting. The defendant places the time at around 9 p.m. on November 17, but authorities believe the event occurred sometime shortly before 4 a.m. on November 18, when Black reported the shooting to neighbors.
Also, Mills' .22-caliber pistol was never recovered although its holster was found on the living room floor, Stone said.
"There's no way for the state to establish exactly what conflict went on inside Woodrow Black's home," Stone said. "But it's clear that there were two people in there and now there's just one left."
Stone said the plea-bargain to manslaughter is an appropriate disposition of the case, calling it "a marginal second-degree murder case." A plea to voluntary manslaughter-which lacks the intent to kill required for a murder conviction and includes a killing committed "in the heat of passion"-is the best way to settle the case, he added.
Black will remain free on bond until his sentencing hearing before Judge Hooper on February 14.
Judge Hooper also accepted plea agreements from six other defendants in a day-long criminal court session on Tuesday.
Twenty-year-old Carl Gray will serve six months in jail of a four-year sentence with the balance in the Community Corrections Program after pleading guilty on Tuesday to aggravated burglary, burglary of a building, and two counts of theft of property.
Gray is accused of entering Heirloom Portrait Studios, owned by Frank Wilhelm, of 711 Leisure Way, last September 21 and taking a rifle, collectible bottles, jewelry, cameras, collectible coins, and other property, said Assistant District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn.
The defendant is also alleged to have entered the residence of Mitch Phillips at 1761 Mellow Road, Bybee, on the same day and to have taken a Remington rifle, a Stevens double-barrel 20-gauge shotgun, a Browning lever-action .22 caliber rifle, a Smith and Wesson .38 caliber pistol, a box of "gun shells," a Marlin .22 caliber rifle, and two rolls of collectible quarters, Dunn told the court.
As part of the plea agreement, Gray was sentenced to four years in jail for aggravated burglary of the Phillips residence, two years for burglary of a building, four years for theft of property valued at more than $10,000, and two years for theft of property valued at more than $1,000. All of the sentences were ordered to be served concurrently, for a net sentence of four years.
After serving six months, Gray will be released into Community Corrections, according to the negotiated plea.
Along with court costs, the defendant must also pay $20,750 in restitution to the portrait studio and $2,400 to Phillips. Dunn said that making regular payments will be a requirement of the Community Corrections sentence.
Also on Tuesday, James V. "Jay" Ball, 57, entered a guilty plea "by information"-meaning he waived his right to have the case first heard by a grand jury.
Ball pled guilty to possession of more than ten pounds of marijuana with intent to sell and received a three-year jail sentence and a $2,000 fine. How much of the jail time must be served will be decided by Judge Hooper on February 14.
On March 26, 2003, Ball is alleged to have delivered 46.7 pounds of marijuana to an undercover agent monitored by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in exchange for $10,000 in cash, prosecutor Dunn told the court.
Brian Allen Messer, 22, pled guilty on Tuesday to charges of attempted burglary of a building, vandalism, possession of a Schedule IV drug, possession of drug paraphernalia, and public intoxication. The defendant was granted a deferred plea for two years.
He is alleged to have attempted to enter Gary's Market at 209 Ground Hog Road, Cosby, on March 24 and to have damaged an electric meter belonging to Gary L. Baxter. Prosecutor Dunn said the damage was done in an attempt to disable the business's alarm system and break into the building.
The other charges were filed after Messer's arrest, Dunn said. If Messer successfully completes two years of supervised probation, the charge will be erased from his record. If not, he could be required to serve a jail sentence.
A hearing on restitution to the victim in the case is set for January 6.
Twenty-four-year-old Johnny R. Coleman pled guilty Tuesday to evading arrest and driving without a license. The defendant-who was arrested by Newport police officers on August 31-has already served 80 days in jail and he was released on time served.
Josh Norton, 26, was released after serving four months in the county jail when he pled guilty Tuesday to burglary of a motor vehicle and theft of property. The remainder of the one-year sentence in the case will be served on supervised probation.
Norton is accused of breaking into a vehicle owned by Randall Moss on August 7 and taking a compact disc player, an amplifier, and CDs. The stolen property was later found at the defendant's residence, prosecutor Stone told the court.
Clifton D. Raines, 42, will report on December 30 to begin serving 120 days of an 11-month, 29-day jail sentence for third-offense driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. The remainder of the jail term will be served on supervised probation, under the terms of the plea agreement.
Assistant District Attorney General Tim Arrants said Raines was arrested by the Newport Police Department on June 9 after being seen driving erratically and measuring .20 percent-more than twice the legal limit-on a breath/alcohol test.
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