Man Sentenced in Downtown SP Beating Death
A man charged with beating a woman to death in downtown Southern Pines last year pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder.
Garland Scott Beal was sentenced to 13 to 17 years in prison for killing Terry Lynn Baker. In Superior Court, he apologized to her brother and her mother, who were in the courtroom.
"I just wanted to tell the family that I am terribly sorry for what happened," Beal said. "If I could have done it all over again, I wouldn't have made the stupid remarks that caused her to act the way she did."
On Sept. 1, 2011, Baker had been on her way to Powell Funeral Home to make arrangements for her daughter's funeral. An alleyway that connects to the funeral home passes by Beal's residence at 141 E. Pennsylvania Ave., where he'd been barbecuing on the balcony.
"Terry Lynn Wilson Baker was preparing for the funeral of her daughter, who had committed suicide in downtown Southern Pines," Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland said in a summary of evidence to support Beal's plea deal. "She saw the defendant and started yelling at him, cursing him. There were some reports she had a knife in her hand, and he had a stick in his hand.
"At some point, he knocked Miss Baker down. She hit her head, and did not get up. He continued to kick her. There were some people in the tennis area (of the Downtown Park) who started to come over."
According to police at the time, several people in the area said they heard Baker yell at Beal and blame him for the death of her daughter, Rebecca Baker. Another witness, Robert Dant, said he didn't hear Baker blame Beal for the death, but he did hear Beal deny the claim.
"I heard him saying something to the effect of, 'I had nothing to do with your daughter's suicide,'" Dant said.
Dant, who had been downtown playing tennis with his wife, said he raced to the alley when he saw a man "stomping the hell" out of a woman just before police arrived.
Police Chief John Letteney said Beal and Baker knew each other.
"I know that after her daughter's suicide, she had blamed others for her daughter's death," Letteney said. "That can be taken in one of many ways. No one else was involved in her daughter's death. It was a suicide.
"We believe she was blaming others for creating a situation in which her daughter felt there was no way out and took her own life."
Strickland said an autopsy showed the cause of death to be "blunt force trauma" to Baker's head and neck.
Baker's mother - who was in the courtroom - had suffered three losses within months, Strickland told the court.
"Her granddaughter died," he said. "Her daughter died. Six months after, her husband - from whom she was estranged - also passed away. The family has been going through a lot the past year."
Baker's brother, Jerry Wilson, spoke for the family at the hearing.
"It has been a hard year," he said. "I was able to set the grief of my niece aside - I can understand suicide. I kept my hopes low about my sister, just because of her lifestyle."
He said he was reconciled to reducing the charges to second-degree murder.
"I think it's at least second-degree murder," Wilson said. "Having been young one time and stupid myself, I can understand how you can get caught up in emotions. But - you don't hit a woman and walk away. My sister had been going through health issues. Despite what her lifestyle was, that's my little sister. Every life has value."
Wilson turned to speak directly to the defendant.
"Mr. Beal, I forgive you for what you did - my God tells me to," he said. "I cannot forget that you walked down those stairs. Men walk away. Words don't mean anything."
He turned back to face Judge Eric L. Levinson.
"The history he has, it should be a looooooong time before he walks free again," Wilson said, pleading for a tough sentence. "The minimum you read out - to me - is not going to be enough."
He paused, his voice breaking somewhat, then spoke again.
"I think now I can start the process of loss of my sister," Wilson said. "She is still supposed to be at Christmas. She is still supposed to be at birthdays. But - because a man couldn't forget some words - she won't."
Defense attorney Bruce Cunningham then stood to address the judge.
"This is one of the biggest tragedies," he said. "In a matter of days, a daughter was lost. A mother was lost. This took place half a block from the funeral home. He (Beal) was cooking chicken on a grill. Within minutes a situation erupted. He was cut with a knife. She was kicked - she fell. There is no allegation of an intent to kill."
He said alcohol played a role in the incident.
"Mr. Beal will be the first to say that," he said. "Things happen in a flash that you look back and regret forever. This family has had a very tough time as a result of all this. Mr. Beal has been in the county jail. I spoke to one of the jailers. He has been a model prisoner. But for what he was charged with, he would have been a trusty."
Cunningham noted - in mitigation - a statement Beal made that day while waiting for EMS to arrive.
"I was in trouble," Cunningham read from the statement. "I was defending myself. I was cut with a knife. She came at me. By the grace of God I lived."
After considering intoxication as a mitigating factor - though one that falls short of justification - Levinson accepted the plea arrangement and sentenced Beal to 164 to 206 months in the Department of Corrections with 425 days credit against that sentence.
"Roll the cost of court and the $8,779.50 in restitution (for funeral expenses) as a civil judgment against the defendant," the judge said.
Cunningham asked the court to consider recommending work release so his client could begin earning money to pay it.
"He will be in for a long period of time," Cunningham said. "Would Your Honor consider recommending work release when eligible so he can begin earning? He is a different individual right now."
Levinson said his judgment would "remain silent" on work release.
"You will be eligible for that," he told Beal. "But you will have to earn it."
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchap pell@ gmail.com.
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