Teen Blinded in Store Robbery Sentenced to Prison
A teen blinded in a 2010 Lakeview convenience store shooting was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole Thursday after entering a plea bargain with prosecutors.
Randy Joel Williams is one of four charged in the first-degree murder of a 78-year-old man who died from wounds suffered when he came to his wife's defense during the shooting.
Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer, Williams - 17 at the time of the incident - could not be sentenced to life without possibility of parole. His attorney, Rich Costanza, had already turned down a plea offer with that sentence. After the court's ruling, the N.C. General Assembly amended state law to add "life with parole" as a first-degree murder sentence in such cases.
That was the deal Williams, now 20, accepted in Superior Court as part of sentences for nine charges in the plea agreement.
Senior Resident Superior Court Judge James Webb sentenced Williams to life in prison with parole on the murder charge, and to four consecutive sentences of 73 to 97 months on the other charges, to run concurrent with the life sentence.
Angus "Gene" Kelly was shot June 28, 2010, during an exchange of gunfire in an attempted armed robbery at the Exxon Short Stop and Food Mart on U.S. 1. He died from his wounds several days later after a number of operations.
Kelly had gone there to pick up his wife, Grace Kelly, who worked at the store. In earlier plea hearings, Assistant District Attorney Peter Strickland summarized the state's evidence in the case as a basis for the deals.
"Gene Kelly was waiting in his green Jeep Cherokee for his wife, Grace, to close," Strickland said. "Three young men with their faces covered entered with handguns. She was in back, and they demanded money from a Hispanic family. When she gave them about $70 from the cash register, they demanded more."
The rest of the money was in a safe that she could not open. Her husband, seeing what was going on, loaded his shotgun.
Williams shouted to Kelly that he was "only 17 years old, and please let them go," according to the case summary. Pellets from Kelly's shotgun had struck Williams in the face, and he lost 90 percent of his vision, the court was told.
Dennison, 18, of Polkton, was later found hiding in a wooded area with Williams. Kelly and Williams were flown to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where doctors removed Kelly's spleen and made repairs to other organs. On July 6, he underwent another operation for repairs to his colon. On July 9, he died from liver and renal failure, prosecutors said.
In Williams' Thursday morning hearing, Strickland told Webb that the state would proceed on charges including first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, second-degree kidnapping, possession of a firearm by a felon, first degree kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. The state dismissed other charges as part of the deal.
Costanza said his client was pleading guilty to the state's remaining nine charges, subject to the plea agreement.
Testimony by two law enforcement officers described a previous armed robbery and other offenses by the same gang of four.
"My client has a statement," Costanza said. "He desires to testify."
Williams took the witness stand, leg chains clinking as he moved slowly across the court. He told the court he was 20 years old, born in New York, and had moved to Moore County with his mother when he was 12 years old.
He told of moving from place to place with his drug-abusing mother, then moving in with his father, who also had a history of criminal charges.
His father took him out of Pinecrest High School as a ninth-grader, he said. He met Dennison and Parris Mack, who lived in his neighborhood, he said.
"I never intended for anybody to get hurt," Williams said. "I would like to apologize to Mr. Gene Kelly and for the injury to Mrs. Kelly. I never intended for anybody to get hurt. I just made a mistake. I am still - don't know the percentage - still pretty blind."
Williams admitted going with the others to the Short Stop in Lakeview where he, Dennison and Mack went in together, leaving Leroy Medley in their vehicle. He said Dennison had the gun, had gotten it from Mack right before they went into the store.
Williams told how he'd grabbed and fired the gun after Dennison shot it first. How, trying to use Kelly's wife as a shield, they'd tried to escape - then moved back into the store. He described hiding in the woods, where they were later captured.
In the store, the .38 in his hand, he fired it toward Gene Kelly, he admitted, in reply to Strickland's query. It was the same gun used in their earlier robbery of a Hardee's in Aberdeen.
"Prior to the Short Stop robbery, P. Mack gave it to Demarcus Dennison," Williams said.
Right before the shooting started, they'd tried to find a way out the back of the store, he said, but couldn't.
Costanza told the court Williams did well in his early school years - but his grades got worse later because of adults failing him in his life.
"Without question, a lot of things that happened in his life led to his being here," Constanza said. "Four-and-a-half months after his father took him out of school, he was in jail charged with first-degree murder. He doesn't use that as an excuse, always took responsibility for his actions. He wanted his apology put on the record for the Kelly family."
Only Dennison remains to be tried - the only one of the four facing a possible death sentence if convicted. Others have agreed to testify at his trial.
Webb asked if Williams would be willing to testify at Dennison's trial if the state so chose, and Costanza - replying for Williams - said he would.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story