A Beaufort County tow truck driver who shot a man dead during an argument over a parking boot almost four years ago was sentenced to 26 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter Thursday.
Preston Oates, 30, had been charged with murder in the shooting of 34-year-old Carlos Olivera of Bluffton on Christmas Eve in 2010. A jury deliberated less than three hours before finding Oates guilty of the lesser charge.
Judge Brooks Goldsmith also sentenced Oates to five years for possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime. The sentences will be served concurrently, and Oates will receive credit for time served since the shooting.
He must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for release.
Olivera's family gasped when the jury found Oates not guilty of murder, according to The Island Packet newspaper.
Goldsmith told the jury before deliberations, over objections from the defense, that they could choose to find Oates guilty of the lesser manslaughter charge, according to the newspaper.
Oates claimed he shot the man in self-defense after Olivera threatened him with a gun.
Prosecutors argued that Oates could not claim self-defense because he shot Olivera when he was walking away and leaned over and shot him again after he was on the ground.
Olivera was dropping off Christmas presents at his brother's house in Bluffton and parked on the street because the driveway was full. The homeowners' association doesn't allow parking on the street, and Oates put a boot on the minivan.
Olivera and his brother pleaded with Oates to remove the boot and let them move the van. Olivera showed that he was carrying a handgun but put it away after his older brother told him that it wasn't necessary, according to his brother's testimony.
While Olivera's brother tried to remove the boot, Oates shot Olivera six times, including five times in the back, according to prosecutors. A pathologist testified that one shot in the center of his back could only have occurred if Olivera had been lying on the pavement.
Eyewitnesses testified that Oates fired as Olivera walked away and continued to fire down on Olivera after he landed face down on the pavement.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Preston Oates in the eigth paragraph.
Preston Oates, right, approaches the bench at the start of his bond hearing at the Beaufort County Courthouse Friday morning. Bond was denied today for Oates, a Bluffton resident charged with killing a man during an argument over a parking incident on Christmas Eve. ¨ ¨ Published Caption 10/9/11: Tow company owner Preston Oates (left) said he acted in self-defense and was protecting his property when he fatally shot Carlos Olivera on Dec. 24.×