Three teens plead guilty to manslaughter

Published 12:29 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

Three Vicksburg teens, reputed gang members who were set to go to trial Monday on murder charges, have pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

Gemini Porter, 17, 2501 Culkin Road; Kersey Young, 18, 1115 Adams Lane; and Roosevelt Dewayne Harris, 18, 1803 First East St., admitted in Warren County Circuit Court Thursday afternoon they shot 25-year-old Antonio Turner on March 15, 2009, after a botched robbery attempt on Alcorn Drive.

Porter, Young and Harris appeared one-by-one before Judge Isadore Patrick as the hastily arranged plea session replaced a scheduled court date for pretrial motions, District Attorney Ricky Smith said.

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Patrick defined manslaughter as “the killing of another without malice with a firearm in the heat of passion.”

After questioning to make sure the defendants understood they were waiving a jury trial, the right to appeal and various other rights — Porter’s mother was required to witness and confirm his answers because he is a minor — the judge accepted the guilty pleas and set sentencing for June 25 at 9 a.m.

Mississippi law requires a sentence of life without parole for a murder conviction. The maximum for manslaughter is 20 years.

Negotiations among prosecutors, defense attorneys and the teens began around 11 a.m. Thursday, Smith said. In return for the guilty pleas, prosecutors agreed to reduce the charges, but did not negotiate a sentence recommendation.

Porter and Young each face a minimum of a two-year suspended sentence with no fine up to a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Harris, who has a previous felony conviction, faces a minimum two-year sentence and the same maximum 20 years and $10,000 fine. Harris was convicted by a jury in March of selling cocaine and has been serving a five-year sentence at the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Walnut Grove.

“God’s going to be glorified,” said Cathy Caples, Porter’s mother, after the hearing. Caples said she had encouraged the boys to tell the truth and accept the consequences, do their time in prison and try to turn their lives around. “We’ve all been praying,” she said.

“One reason we agreed to reduce the charge to manslaughter is because of the ages of the defendants,” Smith said. “Maybe they can take advantage of the fact that they will not spend the rest of their lives in prison.”

Porter, Young and Harris claimed to be members of a gang known as K-3, the K reportedly for the north Vicksburg community of Kings, though none of the teens lives there. A series of robberies, including armed robberies and beatings, against pedestrians in the spring of 2009 also was linked to the gang. Several teens have pleaded guilty and been sentenced in those robberies.

One of those charged in the holdups was high school basketball star Sha’Kayla Caples, 19, 414 Ford Road, who lost a college scholarship after her arrest. The robbery charges against her were dismissed and she was not indicted in return for her pledge to testify as a state’s witness in the trial of the trio. She is Gemini Porter’s cousin.

Turner was shot twice in the back shortly before 1 a.m., and was able to drive his vehicle about 100 yards before careening into the brick column of a home at 112 Alcorn Drive, a residential street in Rolling Acres, a Vicksburg Housing Authority development.

The defendants planned to rob Turner, Smith said, and when he resisted them, “Their story was that they became frightened and pulled the trigger without thinking.”

Two eyewitnesses were ready to testify, Smith said, and evidence to be introduced at the trial showed that all three defendants had guns.

During Porter’s plea before Patrick, both Young and Harris, dressed in orange jumpsuits issued by the Warren County Jail, sat at the side of the courtroom and gestured and mouthed comments to observers, occasionally smiling and laughing.

Porter, who has been out on bond, was handcuffed after his plea. Before being led by bailiffs to the jail, he hugged his mother and another woman.

“I credit it all to the hard work of (Assistant District Attorney) Dewey Arthur,” Smith said after the hearing. “Dewey has spent a lot of time on this case. I think the defendants saw that he had brought together a very solid case, and was very well prepared to start on Monday.”

It was the second Warren County case in the past 30 days in which a murder charge was reduced to manslaughter.

Adam Rader, 27, 103 Cross St., pleaded guilty May 3 in the shooting death of Danny Miller, 25, on April 12, 2009. Rader will be sentenced June 11.