Three people were killed in the Kanawha County sniper shootings.
But, in the end, the prosecutor accepted one second degree murder guilty plea from defendant Shawn Lester.
"I’m very confident that, based on the evidence that we had, that we maximized a prison sentence. And, in the end, that’s all I can promise," said Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants.
As 200 potential jurors waited in the ceremonial courtroom at the Kanawha County Courthouse, the prosecution, defense, Lester and family members of the victims were sitting in Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom’s courtroom across the street working out a plea deal on Monday morning.
Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris explained to the judge what evidence they had against Lester, 37, in connection with the murders from August 2003. According to a ballistics report, victim Jeannie Patton was shot with a .22 rifle that they were able to trace back to Lester.
"The ballistic evidence would be the main and really only evidence linking the other two victims to this crime. Our main evidence in this case is to the murder of Jeannie Patton and that’s why the state is going forward with this plea," said Morris.
Lester was originally charged with five felonies including three counts of first degree murder.
According to the plea deal, all charges are dropped with the exception of the second degree murder charge in connection with Patton. The sentence carries a 10-40 year prison term. The prosecution will recommend 30 years behind bars when Lester is sentenced on August 31st.
Judge Bloom made sure that Lester fully understood the plea.
"Mr. Lester, you’ve heard that recitation of the state’s evidence, is that correct?" asked Bloom.
Lester responded, "Yes."
"And you don’t wish to dispute that. In fact, for purposes of this plea hearing, you accept it. Is that correct?" asked Bloom.
Lester responded by saying, "Yes, sir."
That ended a nearly nine year saga for the families of Patton, Okey Meadows, Jr, and Gary Carrier, Jr.
Patton’s sister, Karen Mance, says she has mixed feelings about the plea. But in the end, she gave it her blessing.
"In a way it’s a good feeling. And in a way…it’s not a good feeling. I’ve got mixed emotions. I just know that no matter what happens or how much time [Lester] gets, it will never bring her back," Mance said about her sister.
She says there are things the family still has questions about that would have been answered in a trial but not with the plea deal.
"I wanted to know…why he chose her. If it was over the motor and the drugs, why he chose her."
Prosecutors claim Patton’s common law husband, Marty Walker, actually stole an engine block filled with drugs from Lester shortly before the shootings started.
Morris says, "We believe the evidence would show that Mr. Lester was fearful because of the theft of the drugs, a large amount of money and the drugs were related to the Mexican mafia."
In fact, investigators say the drugs belonged to a man referred to as "Tito." According to Morris, "Tito" is actually Gilberto Lopez, a known member of the Mexican mafia and the owner of the drugs.
Plants says the plea deal came up suddenly, shortly before the potential jurors started arriving around 8:30 a.m. Monday. It took another two hours to iron out a deal, but Plants says, in the end, the plea assured them of a conviction.
"We know the story. We know [Lester] was involved in the other two [murders]. I just can’t prove it," he said.
Plants stresses last week’s jailhouse interview of Lester conducted by WSAZ Television played no part in the plea deal.
During the sentencing hearing, family members of all three murder victims will be allowed to make impact statements even though Lester only pleaded guilty to Patton’s death.
You can see video coverage of the plea hearing by going to the video section of the MetroNews website.