AIKEN --Faced with the death penalty for the 2011 fatal shooting of Aiken Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson, Stephon Carter waived his right to a trial Monday and accepted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The plea deal was announced by prosecutors on the first day of what was to be opening statements in the trial, days after a jury panel had been seated and prepared for weeks of sequestration.
Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. said his office negotiated the plea with the defense because of the state’s doubts the jury would have unanimously voted for the death penalty.
Thurmond said the element of malice used to be implied with the use of a deadly weapon, but recent changes to the law now require prosecutors to prove malice to secure a murder conviction.
During jury questioning last week, Thurmond said defense attorneys “over and over again” talked to potential jurors about the need to prove malice to convict a defendant of murder, making the prosecution doubt their chances in the guilt and sentencing phases.
“It only takes one (juror), so we acted and we acted decisively to create a situation where Stephon Carter would never see the outside of a prison,” Thurmond said.
Carter, 22, also pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of Public Safety Officer Travis Griffin and was sentenced to 30 years in prison to be served consecutively with his life sentence. As part of the plea agreement, Carter also waives all of his rights to any future state or federal appeals, something Thurmond said was “fairly unusual.”
Prosecutors said Carter was a passenger in a black Chevrolet Impala that was stopped by Griffin on Dec. 20, 2011 shortly after reports were received of a similar car being involved in a drive-by shooting.
Four other officers arrived as backup at the scene at the entrance of Pace’s Run apartments on Brandt Court, including Richardson, who parked his patrol vehicle behind Griffin.
Thurmond said Griffin asked Carter to exit the vehicle “to discuss the earlier incident,” escorted him to the rear of the vehicle and told Carter to take his right hand out of his pocket.
Carter then pulled out a .38 caliber handgun and shot Griffin once in the chest and Richardson in the left side and head before fleeing on foot, Thurmond said.
Griffin was saved from serious injury by his bulletproof vest, but Richardson, a husband and father of three young sons, died in the early hours of Dec. 21 at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
On Monday, Amelyn Richardson, the officer’s widow, told the court about her love for her husband, how he doted on his three sons, and about how their lives will never be the same without him.
Richardson was the kind of person who regularly checked on his elderly neighbor to help her reach something on a high shelf or just to sit and talk. When a friend was deployed to Afghanistan, Richardson visited the Marine’s family regularly and cut the lawn for his wife.
Amelyn Richardson said it’s hard now to see fathers on the sidelines at sporting games cheering for their children and knowing her sons will never have their father there for them again.
“The worst part of this whole situation is that my children will never get the chance to know their father,” Richardson said of her sons who were 1, 4 and 5 years old at their father’s death. “He will not be here for when his sons will need their father the most. He will not see his sons turn into men.”
Defense attorney Mark MacDougall said Carter is full of regret and remorse for what he did, especially because he understands what it is like to grow up without a father. MacDougall said Carter grew up with no family structure and became involved in gang activity at a young age.
In November 1993, when Carter was less than a year old, his father was convicted in the murder of his mother and sentenced to life in prison.
According to Chronicle archives, Willie Carter kidnapped Sonya Carter from a parking lot at Aiken Technical College in March of 1993. Sonya Carter’s body was found the next day in the passenger seat of her car on a dirt road in Barnwelll County. She had been shot four times with a .22-caliber pistol.
On Monday, Carter sat quietly and looked towards Richardson’s mother, brother and widow as they read statements to the court.
When questioned by Circuit Court Judge Clifton Newman, Carter said he had gone to school through 10th grade, had one daughter and had been treated in the past for depression and anxiety. Carter expressed remorse for his crime and asked for forgiveness from the Richardson family.
“I’d like to apologize for taking away a son, a brother and a father,” Carter said. “I know I was wrong, and I accept all responsibility...I hope that one day you’ll all be able to forgive me.”
More than a dozen friends and family of Carter gathered in the courtroom Monday and wiped away tears as Richardson’s family read their statements as well as when Newman sentenced Carter to life without parole. None were willing to comment about Carter or the case.
Richardson’s cousin Gerry Owen, who read a statement from the family after the sentencing, said the family is somewhat disappointed that Carter will not receive the death penalty but is at peace with the life sentence because Carter will “never have an opportunity to terrorize the streets of Aiken again.”
“We know there is nothing that will bring Scotty back, but through his three wonderful boys, we can see a little bit of Scotty every day,” Owen said.