Whether it was intentional or not, a Charleston man who fatally shot his ex-girlfriend's mother will serve prison time for her death.
On the morning of opening arguments Wednesday for his murder trial, Kevin Herriott, 24, ended the proceeding before it began.
Herriott accepted a negotiated plea to a charge of voluntary manslaughter in the death of 50-year-old Joyce Dupree of Charleston. A judge sentenced him to 18 years in prison.
On July 24, 2010, authorities said, Herriott was in an argument with his former girlfriend, Kashia White, in the Gadsden Green area.
Prosecutors said the argument became physical when Herriott pushed and shoved White. When word of the altercation got back to White's family, which was holding a small party at 36 Norman St., they became angry, according to authorities.
As the party continued, prosecutors said, Herriott showed up at the home and was told by White's family to leave.
“Things were heated,” 9th Circuit Assistant Solicitor Chad Simpson said in court.
Herriott left the party, then returned about 10 minutes later. That's when the arguments escalated, Simpson said.
Authorities said Herriott approached one of the partygoers, 36-year-old Bryan Williams, from behind and struck him in the head with a gun, knocking him unconscious.
Prosecutors said the gun went off during the assault, firing a round that struck and killed White's mother, Dupree.
Several family members packed the gallery of the courtroom waiting to make their statements to Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald before Herriott was taken away.
“He took my mom away from me,” White said in court. “I don't sleep at night.”
Williams, who recovered from his head injury, told the court he lost a friend and that Herriott deserves everything he gets.
“I wish he was getting more time. I really do. But we have accepted this,” Williams said.
A trial could have been risky, according to prosecutors. Simpson said the case, which had gone through jury selection Tuesday, would have been complicated to try. Among other things, there were discrepancies about how many shots were fired, and different perceptions among witnesses about how the shooting transpired.
“Whenever you ask a jury to convict someone of murder, the most serious offense under the law, what the jury wants to typically hear is that the person made the decision to point a gun at someone and kill them, and our facts wouldn't have necessarily put that before the jury,” Simpson said.
The defense also claimed Herriott hit Williams in self-defense because he thought Williams was reaching for a knife. Prosecutors said Williams had a knife in his pocket, but they have no evidence that he ever tried to draw the weapon.
The two sides negotiated a plea to voluntary manslaughter, but that plea came close to crumbling in court. When questioned by the judge, Herriott acknowledged that his actions led to Dupree's death, but he refused to go along with the prosecution's stated version of events.
In the end, McDonald allowed him to enter an Alford plea, in which a defendant does not admit guilt to a criminal act, but concedes that the prosecution could likely prove the charge.
Public defender Mary Ford argued that Herriott did not intend for anyone to die that evening, but would take responsibility for Dupree's death.
“He knows it's tragic Joyce died. He didn't intend that. He did cause that. He admits that,” she told the court.
Herriott has a prior record with convictions of second-degree burglary and grand larceny. He will have to serve at least 85 percent of his current sentence.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5560 or Twitter.com/ncaula.