The alleged triggerman in last September's slaying of 49-year-old Ronny Ferguson in Rockmart pleaded guilty today before Judge Michael Murphy.
The surprise move by 30-year-old Rockmart resident Tyson Wilson came after morning testimony, including that of shooting victim Alfred Fennell, put the gun in Wilson's hands.
The plea occurred before the second shooting victim, Melissa Henderson-Smith, had a chance to testify and amid rumors that Kionte Rashad Glover, the 17-year-old with Wilson during the incident, could testify against Wilson.
Glover, who was convicted on multiple charges in April relating to the shooting, has not been sentenced. His sentencing was delayed until after Wilson's trial, leaving open the opportunity to negotiate a lighter sentence in exchange for testimony against Wilson.
The negotiated deal occurred during an extended recess for jurors and included guilty pleas for three of the seven charges. The charges Wilson pleaded to are felony murder, aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
Wilson could have gotten life without the possibility of parole if the jury had convicted him. Instead, Murphy sentenced Wilson to life with the possibility of parole on the murder charge, 20 years on the aggravated assault charge and five years on the firearm charge, totaling 125 years.
Murphy told Wilson he was lucky that the victim's family agreed to the deal.
"The evidence is clear to me that the jury would have had more than enough evidence to convict," Murphy told Wilson, represented by attorney Victor Long. "The case was not going well for you.
"You are a lucky young man because, had they not agreed to it, we would be going forward with this."
The plea proceedings brought out a range of emotions from the families of both Ferguson and Wilson. Members of Ferguson's family burst into tears watching as Murphy addressed Wilson while Wilson's mother continuously cried upon re-entering the courtroom after the negoitiated deal was proposed.
Ferguson's family had a chance to address Wilson after the plea was sealed. For Ferguson's daughter, who graduates from high school next week, there weren't enough words to express her anger.
"Do you know you took a very loving father, a son, a nephew and a good friend to many people," said Jessica Ferguson. "Do you know what you've done to our family? How many lives you seriously hurt? I hope you rot."
Smith, Ferguson's girlfriend and a victim in the assault, also expressed her anger at Wilson.
"You are going to rot in hell. I know this does not mean anything to you now because nothing means anything to you," she said, adding that Wilson had no value of life for himself or anyone else.
"I ain't got nothing for you. I am never going to forgive you."
After the courtroom proceedings, both expressed some relief they would not have to testify again as they did in Glover's trial.
Miss Ferguson said this is a chance to let healing start.
"It's the beginning. I don't think that something like this, this big of an event, in our lives will ever get closure but it's a start," she said.
Smith said she will never get over losing Ferguson.
"He was my everything. He was my life," she said.