Nineteen-year-old Lonta Burress, Jr. pleaded guilty Thursday morning to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Darius Townsend.
Though Burress and Defense Attorney Bill Speek still maintain his innocence, if he had gone to trial, he could have possibly been convicted of first-degree murder and faced life in prison. With the plea agreement, he has been sentenced to five years and is eligible for parole in 18 months. Voluntary manslaughter carries a minimum sentence of three years.
The victim and the defendant were both 17 at the time of the shooting. Burress was out on bond at the time, as he and another young man, Darius Gustus, had been charged months earlier in a school bus stop shooting. Burress was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault for the bus stop incident even thought Gustus was the only one to fire a weapon. Also, witnesses to this incident were unreliable at best. One did not show up to trial and later said she had memory problems. Another witness even changed his story.
Judge Don Poole asked Burress several questions to make sure that he knew what he was agreeing to, including questions about his education. Burress stated that he had only been in school until the ninth grade. He has been in custody for the past two years.
His family waited quietly for Attorney Speek outside the courtroom after the sentence was read. Mr. Speek said that they were “happy with the outcome,” and that “(Burress) is ready to get this portion of his life behind him.
“Lonta has always said he was innocent. He has the opportunity now to get out and lead a very productive life.”