The murder trial for an Augusta teenager was cut short Monday when the defendant entered a guilty plea and was promptly sentenced to life in prison.
The case against Brandon Steplight, who was 16 years old when he shot Miguel Hernandez in a robbery attempt in July 2009, was the second trial in as many weeks for a juvenile in Richmond County Superior Court.
Branndon Manson was found guilty of aggravated battery on Sept. 21 for the March beating of Terrence Reese on Circular Drive. Manson was 15 at the time of the attack.
Last summer, Steplight and co-defendants Cassietta Felton and Charles Nehemiah Cary, also 16 at the time of the robbery, planned to rob Hernandez and several others at a house at 124 Fox Trace, Richmond County Assistant District Attorney Pittman Morris told the court.
Felton was to act as a distraction by dancing for the men while Cary and Steplight came in the back door of the home. But the plan fell apart once Cary and Steplight realized the back door was locked. They knocked repeatedly in the hopes of getting Felton's attention, but it was Hernandez and a second victim, Diego Gaspar, who answered.
When the victims came outside, Steplight shot Hernandez with a 22-caliber revolver, Morris said.
"Hernandez pulled himself up and crawled into Apartment 124, where he died," Morris said.
After entering his plea, Steplight's attorney, Debra Neumann, said her client regretted what had happened and did not mean to kill Hernandez.
"It was an accident the gun went off," she told Judge Carlisle Overstreet. "He didn't mean for anyone to get hurt. The victim pushed him and shoved him."
"I apologize, and when I get home, I'll be a better man," Steplight said.
A woman identified as Steplight's mother began sobbing when Overstreet sentenced her son to life in prison.
Felton also entered a guilty plea. She was facing charges of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison and three years' probation.
Gaspar was also in the courtroom. Speaking through an interpreter, he thanked Overstreet for the sentence.
"Thank you very much for what you've done today, your honor," he said.
A date for Cary's trial has not been set.