September 8, 2012 7:16:27 PM
James "Chuck" Newell has been sentenced to 15 years for the 2008 murder of Adrian Boyette while Corey Lathan, convicted of seven burglaries before age 18, was sentenced to 40 years for his part in an armed burglary.
Newell, 53, was found guilty of manslaughter on Aug. 24 and appeared before Judge Lee Coleman for sentencing on Friday.
Newell's attorney, William Starks, appeared before the judge asking for leniency for his client. Starks asked Coleman to hand down a 10-year sentence for Newell instead of the maximum 20 years.
Dr. James Bogges, a retired surgeon, testified as a character witness on Newell's behalf. Bogges testified that Newell worked for him from 2005 to 2006. He described Newell as a kind and gentle man with an easy-going personality.
Bogges said the "unusual circumstances" surrounding the Slab House murder, as it is commonly called, resulted in a tragic outcome.
"I don't question the facts of the case or the findings of the jury. I feel like it was a worse case scenario," Bogges said. "I feel like it wouldn't be fair to Mr. Newell to imply from that that he's a violent person in nature."
He closed by telling Judge Coleman that the murder was "out of character" for Newell, adding, "He's been punished enough."
Starks said the night of the fatal shooting and events after had been a "perfect storm," citing Newell's tumultuous relationship with his wife, whom he believed to be cheating on him, and the argument that occurred between Boyette and Newell before the shooting.
Starks also reminded the judge that the jury initially announced they could not reach a verdict and were hung before changing their minds and coming to a guilty verdict.
Boyette's mother, Peggy Boyette, took the stand to explain why she believed her son's killer should get the maximum penalty.
Peggy Boyette told the judge that her son was a good person, a good son and fun to be around. She described a man that was full of life and personality, constantly telling jokes. She portrayed her son as a compassionate man who took care of her when she was diagnosed with cancer. She also mentioned Adrian Boyette's now 6-year-old son, who was a toddler at the time of his father's death.
"A huge part of me died when Adrian was murdered,'' she said.
Peggy Boyette then took a deep breath and looked straight at Newell.
"I hope he gets the maximum,'' she said.
Assistant District Attorney Rhonda Ellis asked the judge to honor Peggy Boyette's request for the maximum.
"There are always storms,'' she said, noting that how those storms are handled is where "true character comes into play."
Ellis then referenced the city's murder rate, asking that Judge Coleman impose the maximum sentence as a "deterrent effect."
"When you kill somebody, there are going to be consequences,'' she said.
Starks said the Newell he has come to know over the past four years has convinced him that his client is not dangerous.
"I live in this community,'' Starks said. " I wouldn't be afraid of him being out on the streets."
Judge Coleman sentenced Newell to 20 years with five suspended and five years post-supervision release. He also imposed a $10,000 fine.
Coleman said Newell "deserves some chance to rehabilitate."
Starks said he hoped the public would learn from the tragic events that ended one life and sent another to prison.
"Mr. Newell does regret this ever happened,'' he said. " He would hope that if there were people out there reading this paper they would be able to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation."
While Peggy Boyette was initially pleased with the sentencing, she changed her mind when she realized that Newell may not have to serve the full term of his sentence.
"I'm not pleased with it at all,'' she said. "It's sad that a drug sentence carries more than murder. It's like people don't value life anymore."
Earlier in the day, 18-year-old Corey Lathan was sentenced to 40 years in prison for burglary and armed robbery.
It was a sentence judge Jim Kitchen imposed reluctantly.
"I will not go home tonight and be happy that I had to do this,'' Kitchen said, 'not at all."
Lathan was found guilty on Thursday of one count armed robbery and once count robbery for his role in the Sept. 2011 burglary of Karen Winter.
Lathan and five other teens knocked on the door of Winter's Sandpiper apartment and when she answered, forced their way into the apartment where they forced her to lie on the floor with a gun to her head as they robber her.
Since Lathan was convicted of a felony, Judge Kitchens pulled the teen's youth court record which revealed seven burglary convictions.
In early 2009, Lathan was found guilty of committing five burglaries within a five-day period. The then-15-year-old Lathan received probation. Lathan had been convicted of seven burglaries before his 18th birthday.
Lathan was arraigned for the burglary of Winter's home on Feb. 13 and received a bond of $75,000. He posted bail on Feb. 21.
He allegedly committed two more burglaries seven days later. He has since been indicted for those two burglaries.
During Lathan's sentencing, his victim testified that she no longer felt comfortable in her own home, especially at night. She asked Kitchen to impose the maximum sentence.
"I don't want this to happen to anyone else,'' Winter said.
Lathan's friends and family came to the sentencing in support of the teen with his mother writing a letter asking for leniency.
Lathan addressed both the court and Winter, asking for sympathy.
"I pray and wish Ms. Winter can have comfort once again after this tragedy,'' he said.
His attorney, Gary Goodwin, asked Kitchen's to have mercy on his client.
"I know this court has mercy, I've seen it before,'' Goodwin said. "This man, if he hadn't gone down the path he went on would be entirely different and be a contributing member of society."
Kitchens replied saying that he had seen for himself that Lathan was an intelligent young man and had observed him counseling with Goodwin throughout the trial.
However, the judge said when the wrong group of people interact, it could be comparable to fire and gasoline.
Lathan argued that he was easily influenced by people but Judge Kitchens pointed out that in the nine different burglaries, the only common element was Lathan.
"It sounds like Mr. Lathan is the wrong crowd,'' Kitchens said. "He's the problem."
Kitchens then sentenced Lathan to 30 years with the Mississippi Department of Corrections for armed robbery and 15 years with five suspended for the burglary conviction. The sentences are to run consecutively, totally 40 years in prison.
As he was being led from the courtroom, Lathan called out to his family members: "I love y'all!''
His family members began to openly weep, with a man dressed in military fatigues crying silently.
The 30 years will be served day-for-day, but Lathan could possibly only serve 85 percent of the 10-year sentence. His earliest release date would allow him to leave prison at the age of 56.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
1. Spears: CMSD tax hike unnecessary COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
2. Higgins: $150 million project eying Lowndes Port COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. CPD officer involved in fight to go before city council COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
4. MSU horticulture student gains experience at Smith Landscaping COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY