Remorseful shooter gets 25 years in jail; others also sentenced

Published 5:00 am Thursday, August 24, 2000

A Brookhaven man facing sentencing on manslaughter andaggravated assault charges used his court appearance Wednesday tourge others to stay from a sinful life.

Billy C. Wilcher, who a day earlier pleaded guilty tomanslaughter in the shooting death of acquaintance Deborah Kellyand aggravated assault on Hollis Clark in a Jan. 30 incident atKelly’s home, apologized to Clark and the victims’ family members.He then encouraged people to move away from sinful life or to notstart.

“The devil is out there, and he’s very busy,” said Wilcher, 47,of 623 East Chickasaw Street. “And he’s angry because he only has ashort time on Earth.”

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Wilcher said the devil has three reasons for existing: steal,kill and destroy.

“Look what he done to us,” Wilcher said.

Pausing occasionally to keep his composure, Wilcher said he wassad that he had not learned his lesson earlier in life.

“It’s sad to say, but it took me going to jail for me to reallybe free,” Wilcher said.

Essie James, Kelly’s mother, said it had taken her a long timeask the Lord to forgive Wilcher, but she was finally able to dothat.

“If I don’t forgive you, I can’t see Jesus,” James told Wilcher.”And I’m determined to see Jesus.”

James said she did not hate Wilcher but, pointing out that herdaughter would have turned 40 a day earlier, her question to himwas, “Why?” Judge Keith Starrett did not allow a dialogue duringthe hearing.

Before sentencing, Starrett said Wilcher could be a minister andcarry his message to his next destination.

“It’s unfortunate you didn’t start sooner,” Starrett said.

Wilcher was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the manslaughtercharge and eight year for aggravated assault, with the last threeto be served on post release supervision. The sentences are to runconsecutively for a total of 25 years.

Wilcher was also ordered to pay full restitution, which thejudge described as significant, for medical and funeralexpenses.

Starrett also urged those in the crowded courtroom to heedWilcher’s message. The judge said the human tragedy in cases likeWednesday’s was not worth the cost.

“Too many people bring guns into disputes,” Starrett said.

Wilcher had been indicted on a murder charge and his trial wasscheduled to start Tuesday. After consulting with Kelly’s parents,a manslaughter plea agreement was offered and accepted, saidAssistant District Attorney Jerry Rushing.

Joe Fernald, Wilcher’s attorney, said his client never deniedhis guilt. However, he believed the evidence supported only amanslaughter verdict and not murder as the prosecution wasseeking.

“He’s a good man. He made a bad mistake,” Fernald said.

In other sentencing Wednesday:

* Roger Dale Laird, 49, of 726 Luther Trail, Bogue Chitto, wassentenced to 20 years on each of two counts of unlawfuldistribution of cocaine and one count of possession of cocaine withintent to distribute.

The sentences are to run concurrently with the last 10 to beserved under post release supervision. He was also ordered to pay a$15,000 fine, $60 restitution and to obtain alcohol and drugtreatment.

* John Horace Bradford, 42, of 225 Highland St., Ripley, Tenn.,was sentenced to four years on each count of possession ofamphetamine and methamphetamine. The sentences were suspended forfive years probation and a $3,000 fine.

On a misdemeanor count of possession of less than 30 grams ofmethamphetamine, Bradford was sentenced to a $250 fine and toobtain alcohol and drug treatment.

* Vincent Berry, 21, of 102 Lindsey St., was sentenced to eightyears on each of two counts of unlawful sale of cocaine.

The sentences were to run concurrently with the last five to beserved under post release supervision. He was also ordered to pay a$6,500 fine, $260 restitution and to obtain his GED.