Two Sentenced in Addor Murder
Two suspects who earlier pleaded guilty to a 2008 murder in Addor were sentenced to prison Friday.
In March, Justin Cotton and Martin “Von” McMillan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and robbery charges for killing Donald Gray “Donnie” Sands Jr., in May 2008.
Sentencing was deferred to this term and left to the discretion of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James M. Webb pursuant to their plea deals.
He sentenced McMillian to a minimum of 271 months (22.5 years) and maximum of 362 months (30.1 years).
Cotton was sentenced to serve between 300 months (25 years) and 400 months (33.3 years). His sentence was longer because of previous convictions and an additional charge of common law robbery of a pizza delivery man.
Each will get credit for time served waiting for trial.
Cotton had entered what is called an Alford plea, meaning that he felt it was in his best interest to accept the deal without admitting actual guilt.
He had been charged with capital murder and could have faced the death penalty if convicted. Cotton also accepted a deal to plead guilty.
As a condition of their plea arrangements, McMillan and Cotton agreed to testify against each other if called by the state.
Attorneys for both defendants argued for lesser sentences.
“We are arguing over about four years difference, probably,” said Tim Morris, the attorney who represents McMillan. “The top of the range is around 27 years.”
He and Cotton’s attorney, Bruce Cunningham, pushed for sentences possibly as low as 18 years in state prison. Prosecutor Peter Strickland asked for the upper range.
Summarizing the crime, Strickland said physical evidence showed Sands had been shot twice.
One bullet entered behind the left shoulder, passed through his lung and aorta, Strickland said. The second struck him behind the left ear ending in the right temporal lobe of his brain.
During the hearing in March, Strickland said Sands went to Addor to see Elsie Hailey, but she was not at home.
“He saw her door was padlocked,” Strickland told the court. “He confronts Cotton and the defendant, and offers a Seneca cigarette to Cotton.”
Cotton tried to rob Sands, holding him up with a .22 rifle, Strickland said.
“Three shots were fired,” Strickland said. “One hit him in the back and one in the head.”
When Hailey returned to her home, she saw Sands’ car and went to investigate with her flashlight.
“She found Sands bleeding,” he said. “She called 911.”
Investigators collected two .22-caliber shell casings at the scene along with a Coke cup and a cigarette butt. Cotton’s DNA was on it.
The victim’s parents sat in the front row Friday listening to the description of their son’s death.
His mother, Margaret Sands and other family testified during the afternoon session about how much they missed him and urged the two young men who killed him to seek forgiveness and turn their lives around.
“Our relationship was the best I think a mother and a son could have,” Margaret Sands told Webb. “We have been heartbroken since this happened.”
Cunningham noted that Cotton did not pull the trigger and that he basically confessed from the beginning.
He also did something virtuously unprecedented in putting the lead detective on the stand for the defense.
Lt. Bill Mackie, of the Moore County Sheriff’s Department, testified that Cotton’s statements were all corroborated by the physical evidence found at the scene.
Mackie also testified that McMillan gave a number of conflicting statements.
Morris asked for McMillan to be sentenced in the lower mitigated range. He then turned to the Sands family to speak directly to them.
“Mr. Sands, Mrs. Sands, this was not something aimed directly at your son,” Morris said. “It was a senseless, impulsive act.”
Turning back to Webb, Morris said he just wanted the boys to have a chance someday to get out of prison.
Webb studied the briefs and other documents, making notes as he worked. Near absolute silence filled the court.
After some time, Webb picked up the laminated structural sentencing chart and began writing down his sentences, before announcing them.
After the proceeding ended, members of the Sands family came over to hug Strickland and shake his hand.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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