CHATSWORTH — A Calhoun man who was arrested and charged with murder just hours after the discovery of a body in Resaca pleaded guilty to malice murder and received a life sentence on Monday at the Murray County Courthouse, but will be eligible for parole.
Eric Charles Stewart faced two counts of murder and one count of armed robbery in the death of Donnie Charles, 54. Charles’ body was found behind Charles’ home at 1263 Sexton Road on May 17.
Citing the desire of the family of Charles to avoid the stress of a trial, District Attorney Bert Poston said he accepted the defense’s offer of a plea deal. With the life sentence, Stewart will be eligible for parole in 30 years, but Poston said it is rare for those who plead guilty to murder to receive parole.
“We got the offer and I ran it by the family and they preferred to take the plea rather than going through the trial,” Poston said. “This way, there will be no appeals to worry about and no graphic testimony for them to have to endure. It was a pretty brutal murder, and they didn’t want to go through that.”
Stewart was represented by Cat Pyne of the Public Defender’s Office.
“It was a plea that my client wanted and that he eagerly accepted,” Pyne said.
The trial had been scheduled to start on Monday before Superior Court Chief Judge William Boyett.
“We were all set to pick a jury, and if the family had wanted to do it, we were ready to go,” Poston said. “The evidence was very overwhelming. We had Stewart’s DNA evidence and fingerprints at the scene. He had blood on his shoes, and he had the victim’s belongings on him when he was taken into custody. It was a pretty clear-cut case as to what happened.”
According to the indictment, Stewart killed Charles “by repeatedly striking Donnie Charles in the head with a blunt object …”
Witnesses said Stewart had been camping behind Charles’ home, and investigators found bloody items belonging to both Charles and Stewart at the campsite.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Joe Montgomery previously declined to comment on a motive, but did say that Charles and Stewart knew each other and that Charles had allowed Stewart to stay at his home earlier in the year.
Montgomery said at the time that Stewart had been in the Gordon County jail on a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. According to a May 2 article from The Calhoun Times, Stewart and another man were arrested for shoplifting at the Calhoun Home Depot.
Stewart was charged with theft by shoplifting and obstruction of a police officer.