A 22-year-old Floyd County man pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Monday in a shooting death that all parties agreed was senseless.
"It was a ridiculous, tragic loss of life," Superior Court Judge Billy Sparks said before sentencing Michael David Yates to 20 years, with 10 to serve in prison.
Yates had been facing two counts of felony murder in the Jan. 13 death of Scotty Dale Graham during an early-morning fight at a house on East 19th Street.
Sparks presided over a hearing Thursday in which Yates' attorney, Robert Rutledge, contended his client shot Graham, 38, in self-defense. In his courtroom Monday, the judge accepted the plea deal worked out between Rutledge and Assistant District Attorney Kevin Salmon.
"You shouldn't have been out there with a gun. You shouldn't have been out there in a stolen car. You shouldn't have been out there using meth," Sparks told Yates, then pronounced the ADA's recommendation "reasonable." Yates also pleaded guilty and was sentenced on three other charges: five years each for theft by receiving stolen property and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and 12 months for reckless conduct.
The sentences will run at the same time as his imprisonment on the manslaughter charge.
Graham's mother spoke before the sentencing, tearfully announcing it was her birthday.
Kathy Graham described the incident as "all this stupidity" before saying she did not object to the deal.
"I will not forgive at this time ... I'm sure I will someday, but my son's not here to enjoy his grandbabies," she said, adding that her heart goes out to Yates' family, who were seated in the courtroom.
In the Thursday hearing, Rutledge said Yates shot Graham twice in the chest at around 6:40 a.m. after Graham had struck him in the head and took him to the ground. It was unclear from testimony why the young man went to the house — a hotspot for selling drugs — but a witness said people at the home didn't like him coming over because he often brought stolen items. After the shooting, Yates fled in the stolen truck he came in but abandoned it when he struck another vehicle down the road.
He was arrested the next evening in Adairsville following a tip that led police to issue a lookout in Gordon and Bartow counties. Rutledge, who had argued that Graham and two others had planned to rob Yates, said Monday that his client also feels "this whole thing was very senseless."
Sparks noted that there were conflicting accounts presented, but he said he was convinced Yates' parents had tried to help their son and could be a supportive influence while he serves his time. Yates also will have to get counseling and pay for Graham's funeral.
"There's nothing we can do in this courtroom that can bring Mr. Graham back, and that's the sad thing," the judge said.