MONCKS CORNER — Admitting to mistakenly killing a mother three years ago at a nightclub, a man was sentenced Monday to 15 years in prison after reaching a deal with prosecutors who feared racial themes would overshadow their murder case.
Shearon Lamar Bennett, 35, pleaded guilty to lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm into a dwelling. Under a murder conviction, he would have faced at least 30 years in prison.
If the case had gone to trial, Bennett, who is black, was expected to argue that he shot at white motorcyclists who had used the N-word during a December 2013 confrontation and chased him out of the Moonshine Saloon near Goose Creek. One of his bullets went through an outside wall of the club at 216 Myers Road, fatally striking 32-year-old April Infinger, a white woman celebrating a friend’s birthday inside.
Infinger was not involved in the melee and was not the intended target. She was married, and she had a teenage daughter.
“There were contentions over things that happened in the bar, and a lot of those ... centered along the line of racial tensions,” Mason West, an attorney who prosecuted the case, said during a morning hearing at the Berkeley County Courthouse. “In light of things happening in the country ... the memory of Ms. Infinger would have been lost.”
Bennett’s sentencing came amid nationwide turmoil over race relations, particularly between police and the black community. Video of officer-involved shootings have sparked protests nationwide. Race is also thought to be a motive in the slayings of five Dallas police officers last week and nine black worshippers last year at a Charleston church.
Circuit Judge Deadra Jefferson handed Bennett the maximum prison sentence on each charge: five years for manslaughter and 10 years for shooting into the building. The terms must be served one at a time.
In delivering the penalty, Jefferson said she thought the plea agreement was appropriate considering Bennett’s self-defense claim. But the judge also consulted his long list of past convictions, including pointing a firearm, assault and resisting arrest.
“As (the defense lawyer) said, every life matters,” she said. “The fact remains: An innocent life was lost. ... When you use deadly force, you have to take accountability.”
Deputies also arrested Bennett’s brother, Darrell Bennett, 44, and April Cartin, 47, both Cross residents who later pleaded guilty to obstructing justice. Darrell Bennett served five days in jail, and Cartin served 90 days.
Bennett’s lawyer, Steve Davis, told the judge that his client was having a good time at the bar during the early morning hours of Dec. 8, 2013. But members of the Misguided Brotherhood Motorcycle Club zeroed in on Bennett because he was at the saloon with his white girlfriend, he said.
Bennett added that the bikers yelled, “We gonna get that (N-word).”
The girlfriend was beaten, and Bennett, too, would have been bludgeoned if he hadn’t fought back by opening fire with a gun he wasn’t allowed to carry as a felon, Davis said. None of the bikers were charged with assault, but Davis said witnesses would have backed his client’s story.
“We must always be mindful that justice is blindfolded,” Davis said. “If we take off the blindfold, we violate that principle. The only people singled out were people of color.”
Bennett said the shooting was the “biggest mistake” of his life.
“I’m not trying to make this a racial issue,” Bennett told the judge. “But when I first walked in, I was the target. ... I apologize to the family, but this is not all my fault.”
West, a former assistant solicitor asked to continue prosecuting the case after going into private practice, portrayed Bennett as a “tyrant” of the Cross community where the defendant lived. People were scared to testify against him, West said.
Infinger’s family joined the prosecution in arguing for the stiffest penalty. West read a letter penned by her husband, Wayne, who said Infinger had been a constant in his life since they were high school sweethearts. Her death left a void for him and his 15-year-old daughter.
“April was home to me. Now, I am homesick without her,” he said in the letter. “We miss who we were when we were together.”
Her mother, Pam Hargett, stood amid a packed courtroom. The crowd turned silent as she spoke. She recalled how her daughter weighed less than 4 pounds at birth. The infant slept on her chest.
“I was so scared,” she remembered. “I feared she’d stop breathing.”
Hargett brought photographs of Infinger to show the court.
“I didn’t want anybody to ever forget her,” she said.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.