AIKEN - Elouise Jennings told a circuit court judge Thursday her family's life was destroyed in 1995 when her son was murdered and her husband suffered a fatal heart attack upon learning of their child's death.
"I can't for the life of me make any sense of it," she said. "It's just more pain than people can bare."
On Thursday, Tony Lee of Beech Island pleaded guilty to murder and attempted armed robbery and three other men pleaded guilty to lesser charges in connection with the shooting death of William Dean Jennings.
Mr. Jennings, 43, died on Oct. 15, 1995, at Medical College of Georgia Hospital soon after he was shot during a struggle to keep a would-be robber out of the RACO convenience store on East Martintown Road in North Augusta.
Hours later his father, Frank Jennings, 76, of Belair Road in Augusta, suffered a heart attack when told his son had died. The elder Jennings died in a family conference room of the Trauma Center of MCG hospital.
"He didn't have a heart attack," Mrs. Jennings said. "His heart burst open in pain."
Circuit Judge Frank Eppes sentenced Mr. Lee, 20, to life in prison for the murder, 20 years on the robbery charge, and five years for possession of a pistol while committing a violent crime. He will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
"Mr. Lee is bellying up to the bar, for lack of a better word, and pleading guilty," 2nd Circuit Solicitor Barbara Morgan said. "But (Woodrow Lee, the defendant's brother) is the only one truthful from the very beginning."
Woodrow Lee was caught on videotape buying a drink from Mr. Jennings at the store, moments before the clerk locked up for the night. Two Silver Bluff High School coaches identified him from the tape, Ms. Morgan said.
Before sentencing, Deputy Public Defender Kent Landry, who represented Tony Lee, said his client showed courage in admitting to the shooting, and hopefully the plea agreement would help the other three men "turn their lives around."
Woodrow Lee, 21, and William Dunbar Jr., 19, both of Bell Drive in Beech Island, and Emmitt Robinson, 19, of Green Road in Aiken all pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony. The pleas are an admission that they failed to prevent the criminal act or knowingly withheld knowledge of the crime.
Judge Eppes sentenced all three to 10 years in prison, suspended to five years probation. They were also ordered to earn General Equivalency Diplomas in lieu of graduating from high school.
In addition, Mr. Robinson received a consecutive sentence of five years in prison on the pistol charge, suspended during probation on the other charge. He has a second pending pistol charge unrelated to the incident at the RACO store.