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Mount Pleasant teen who fatally stabbed another during love feud pleads guilty to manslaughter

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Matthew Fischer testifies during a "stand your ground" hearing at the Charleston County courthouse earlier this year in the murder case he faced in the 2015 stabbing death of Lucas Cavanaugh. File/Staff

A young Mount Pleasant resident pleaded guilty Tuesday in a 2015 deadly stabbing of another teenager during a love feud.

Matthew Fischer was 16 when he said he stabbed 17-year-old Lucas Cavanaugh in the Park West neighborhood, where Fischer's girlfriend lived. He said he was defending himself.

But during a brief hearing in downtown Charleston, Fisher, now 19, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Circuit Judge Markley Dennis is expected to sentence him later this month.

Fischer had been charged with murder, which carries between 30 years and life in prison. The lesser manslaughter count brings between two and 30 years. No penalty has been agreed upon.

Prosecutors have pointed to text messages before the fatal confrontation in which Fischer told Cavanaugh, a friend of his girlfriend's, not to meddle in his relationship. He threatened Cavanaugh, "I'll ... kill you. ... Come here right now."

His plea on Tuesday came a month before his trial date in December. The judge had already denied him immunity from prosecution under the state’s "stand your ground" law that protects people who use deadly force to defend themselves.

Attorney Andy Savage of Charleston said Tuesday that his team had fully explored the self-defense claim but that Fischer, his family and lawyers agreed that he should accept responsibility for the crime.

"It was not an easy decision, but it was one we came to after a lot of deliberation," Savage said. "We all reached the same conclusion."

Fischer's sentencing was expected to be scheduled for the last week in November.

A prosecutor on Tuesday briefly described what led to the killing, but past court hearings had already delved into the details.

Fischer was at his girlfriend's home on Baltusrol Lane on Jan. 18, 2015, when she started getting Apple iMessages from Cavanaugh on her iPod. The three were fellow students at Wando High School.

The messages angered Fischer, but Cavanaugh texted that he wasn't interested in stealing Fischer's girlfriend, Natalie Brown.

Cavanaugh soon drove from Sullivan's Island to Brown's house despite Fischer's threats.

Fischer's attorneys said Cavanaugh got out of his car and charged at Fischer. They fought, and Fischer testified in past hearings that Cavanaugh put him in a headlock.

But they soon separated and stood face to face, prosecutors said.

Fischer pulled a pocket knife from his pocket and stabbed Cavanaugh, opening a gaping wound in the teen's stomach area.

"I just needed to get him off of me," Fischer testified in an earlier court hearing. "I couldn't breathe."

But Brown testified that Fischer had been the aggressor and banged on Cavanaugh's car hood before their fight.

Prosecutors also amassed further evidence hinting at Fischer's motivation. In the weeks before the stabbing, other text messages portrayed him as angry, jealous and often suspicious of Brown's other friends. One text to Brown said, "I'll kill him eventually."

"I know you don't want me to hurt him," Fischer said in another message, "but he needs to go."

Cavanaugh's loved ones are expected to speak during the sentencing hearing in the coming weeks, Assistant Solicitor Jennifer Shealy said. At the end of Tuesday's proceeding, one upset family member cursed and walked out of the courtroom.

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Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414. Follow him on Twitter @offlede.

Andrew Knapp is editor of the Quick Response Team, which covers crime, courts and breaking news. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at Florida Today, Newsday and Bangor (Maine) Daily News. He enjoys golf, weather and fatherhood.

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