OCALA - Charles Jerome Austin, a co-defendant in the April 2006 Marion Oaks home invasion that left a teenager dead and another man seriously injured, pleaded no contest on Thursday to second-degree murder with a firearm and attempted first-degree murder.
The hearing in Circuit Court in Ocala made this the fourth of five co-defendants to enter a plea in the case.
Austin, who turned 29 Thursday, was facing the death penalty on charges of first-degree murder, and a maximum of life in prison on separate charges of attempted first-degree murder and home invasion robbery with a firearm.
Under the terms of the deal, he will face no less than 40 years in prison but no more than 50 years, with no chance of gain time on at least 25 years of that sentence, due to Florida's minimum mandatory sentencing laws in cases involving a firearm.
Austin stood quietly by his attorney, Ronald E. Fox, on Thursday morning as Circuit Judge Willard Pope read him the rights he forfeits by entering a plea.
He was accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Kindrell Lamar Stocker during the April 2006 home invasion, which was undertaken to procure drugs and a large sum of money.
Stocker, it was established in court Thursday, was an innocent victim — a boyfriend of one of the homeowner's children who was returning to the house when a scuffle started- and was shot on the front doorstep, Assistant State Attorney Jeremy Powers said.
The other co-defendants in the case all entered pleas at various points last year and agreed to testify against the remaining defendants in exchange for reduced sentences.
Jason Hardy, 31, faces a maximum 40 years after pleading no contest to similar charges in October 2008.
Deyonco Flowers, 21, pleaded no contest to armed home invasion robbery in November 2008 to secure a maximum 20 years in prison.
In July, Delliah Robinson, the driver of the getaway car, pleaded no contest to similar charges and the 29-year-old faces no more than 10 years in prison.
The fifth and final co-defendant, Brian Hubbard, currently sits in federal prison in Texas on separate drug charges. He has been indicted by a Marion County grand jury, but prosecutor Rock Hooker said he is waiting for his release from federal prison to arrest him and bring him back to Marion County.
Hubbard is accusing of serving as the other gunman in the case, who reportedly shot and injured Eddie Hamilton.
The sentencings for Austin, Hardy, Robinson and Flowers have all been deferred pending their testimony against Hubbard. In the event the fifth co-defendant also enters a plea, their deals will still stand.
"Justice moves on for Kindrell Stocker," Hooker said after Thursday's hearing.
Stocker's mother, Debra Bryant, shed tears as she left the courtroom.
"I feel better they got everyone, but that won't change that day," she said.
"He was perfect. He was one of my best kids," she said of Kindrell, her fourth-born among seven children.
"There was a little bit of light at the end of a very long dark tunnel," Fox, Austin's court-appointed attorney, said later about Austin's case.
But he raised concerns about adequately defending death-penalty cases under the minimally funded operations of the Justice Administrative Commission, which appoints death-qualified lawyers to indigent cases.
"You can't defend death cases with two hands tied behind your back," he said.(Source : www.ocala.com)