November 20, 2012 10:42:07 AM
A Columbus man pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Monday to avoid a capital murder charge.
Lee Major Wilder, 22, of 1508 15th Ave. N, appeared in Lowndes County Circuit Court before Judge Lee Howard yesterday morning dressed in red jumpsuit and wearing glasses.
As part of a plea agreement, Wilder pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the 2008 shooting death of 29 year old Cornelius Cunningham in front of the victim's 2112 14th Ave. N. apartment.
Assistant district Attorney Katie Moulds informed the court that Wilder was "hanging out" on the 2100 block of 14th Ave. N. when he saw Cunningham inside a convenience store with drugs and money.
Later that evening Wilder approached Cunningham in front of his 14th Ave., home in an attempt to buy drugs. When Cunningham produced the drugs, Wilder pulled out a gun and shot Cunningham once in the head above his left eyebrow. Wilder then stole the money and the drugs and fled the scene. He was later apprehended and confessed to law enforcement officers.
Wilder, who has a ninth grade education and was enrolled in the special education program, was represented by Andre DeGrey of Capital Defense in Jackson.
Wilder initially pleaded not guilty but later changed his plea in an effort to avoid the death penalty.
He was also charged with simple assault on a police officer from a 2011 incident where he assaulted a corrections officer inside the Lowndes County Adult Detention Center.
As part of his plea, Wilder was sentenced to serve 20 years in the Mississippi Department of Corrections for the manslaughter charge and five years with MDOC for the assault charge.
He received the maximum sentence for both charges.
Christopher Brown, Cunningham's brother, was in the audience as Wilder received his sentence.
Brown spoke fondly of his brother and added that he has forgiven Wilder.
"He was a very kind-hearted and very loving person," he said.
"I forgave him and I hold no grudges against him."
After his sentencing, Wilder was immediately remanded into the custody of the MDOC.
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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