UNION COUNTY — A Union man charged in the June 2015 shooting death of a woman was sentenced to 15 years in prison Thursday afternoon.
Cortez Devonta Harris, 23, 102 Marigold Drive #51, Union, was originally charged with murder in the June 14, 2015 shooting death of Vickie Diane Curtis.
Also charged in the incident was Cody Wayne Lynch, 27, 154 Fairview Street, Jonesville, who was charged with the attempted murder of Cortez Harris and with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Lynch’s case is still pending.
Deputies with the Union County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to 156 Wildlife Drive late Sunday night, June 14, 2015 in reference to a shooting. When they arrived on the scene, they found Curtis, 54, lying in the entryway of a mobile home with a gunshot wound to the face.
This was the backdrop to Thursday’s hearing in General Sessions Court in the Main Courtroom of the Union County Courthouse nearly a year after the shooting.
Harris, who has been in the Union County Jail since June 15, 2015, was brought in to the courtroom in a wheelchair due to an injury to his foot he suffered at the jail. He was represented by defense attorney Candice Lapham with Deputy Solicitor John Anthony presenting the state’s case.
While Harris was originally charged with murder, Anthony, in presenting the state’s case, told Judge Daniel D. Hall of York that the state was recommending he be sentenced to not more than 15 years for voluntary manslaughter. Lapham told Hall that Harris was pleading guilty to the voluntary manslaughter charge under what is known as an “Alford plea,” whereby the defendant pleads guilty, not as an admission of the crime, but because the state has sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction on the charge. Anthony said that the state agreed to reduce the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter because given the evidence that would have been the most likely result have the case been tried before a jury.
Hall questioned Harris about whether or not he understood that by entering a plea he was giving up his right to a jury trial and, furthermore, that the maximum possible penalty for voluntary manslaughter is 30 years in prison. He also pointed out that, given the seriousness of the crime, if Harris were to be convicted of another equally serious crime the result could be life imprisonment. Given all that, Hall asked Harris if he understood the ramifications of his decision to enter the Alford plea on the voluntary manslaughter charge and if he still wanted to enter that plea.
Harris responded that he did understand and he did want to enter the plea.
Anthony then presented the state’s case saying that the shooting grew out of an ongoing dispute between Harris and Lynch. He said that Harris had went to the house on Wildlife Drive after learning Lynch was there and confronted him. The situation escalated to where Harris and Lynch, both of whom were armed, pulled guns on each other. Anthony said the women in the house including the victim initially managed to stop things from escalating further and Harris went outside and was in the driveway when Lynch came out to the porch. He said that Lynch fired first at Harris who returned fire, hitting the victim who’d also walked out onto the porch.
Anthony said that while Harris was the second one to open fire, his actions cannot be considered self-defense as he’d went to the house with a gun. He also pointed out that in the ensuring fight in the house Harris and Lynch had both drawn guns and that while Harris had went outside after the initial confrontation he did not leave the scene.
In her remarks, Lapham pointed out that three weeks before the incident, Harris had been shot and he’d legally purchased his gun for self-defense. Lapham said that Harris never had any intention to kill anybody when he went to the house on Wildlife Drive and that it had been Lynch who fired first and that Harris had only fired his gun after first being fired on. She said that Curtis had been like a second mother to Harris and that her death was something that he continued to grieve over and would have to live with the rest of his life.
Lapham also pointed out that Curtis’ family and Harris’ family were sitting together in the courtroom in support of each other and Harris, and that the families were going through a slow healing process together. She also pointed out that Harris is the father of two small children and was working towards getting a degree in welding at the time of the shooting. Lapham also pointed out that Harris had voluntarily turned himself in after the incident. She also pointed out that he had already spent 338 days in jail and asked the court to consider a lesser sentence that could possibly be served locally.
In accepting Harris’ Alford plea to voluntary manslaughter, Hall sentenced him to the recommended 15 years in prison with credit for the 338 days already served.
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.