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Virginia murder defendant pleads no contest before deal is set

A Newport News defendant enters a plea when formal charges are announced at an arraignment. The plea given at that time is not necessarily the final plea before a case is resolved. The plea may be changed - guilty may become not guilty, not guilty may become guilty or the defendant may choose to enter a plea of no contest.

A Rose Hill, Virginia, man recently pleaded no contest to a second-degree murder charge. The 46-year-old was on the brink of going to trial for shooting and killing his stepfather last June. The plea came as trial attorneys were in plea negotiations.

A deal with prosecutors was not confirmed. Otherwise, the accused man would have entered a plea of guilty in exchange for a reduced charge or lighter punishment. The defendant now risks the possibility of going to prison for up to 40 years.

Court papers said police found the defendant's fatally wounded stepfather in a Rose Hill apartment. The defendant admitted he shot the victim and surrendered. The man told authorities the gun discharged at the entrance to the apartment when the stepfather slapped him.

The defendant claimed he was attempting to sell the gun. The gun owner, a woman the defendant knew, later stated she lent the weapon to the man with no intention of selling it. The woman said the shooting was planned, after the shooter dreamed the stepfather abused the defendant's mother; the former couple had no contact since the accused man was a child.

Investigators also learned the shooting was not accidental. The gun was fired into the victim's chest from a distance of two feet, too far away to support the defendant's story.

A no contest plea is a defendant's acknowledgement that the prosecution has amassed enough evidence to gain a conviction. An admission of guilt is avoided. The defendant does, however, accept whatever punishment the court doles out.

Source: The Kingsport Times News, "Southwest Virginia man enters no contest plea in stepfather's murder" Wes Bunch, Apr. 28, 2014

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