Two life sentences to serve simultaneously.
That's the sentence given 30-year-old Michael Jason Registe, the double-homicide suspect who internationally became a “most wanted” fugitive after the 2007 execution-style killings of 21-year-old Randy Newton Jr. and 20-year-old Bryan Kilgore.
This afternoon Muscogee Superior Court Judge William Rumer accepted Registe's guility plea on two counts of murder. Registe's trial had been set to start Monday, but he earlier this week decided to plea.
In the plea deal negotiated by defense attorney Manny Arora and Laura Murphree of the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, Registe pleaded guilty only to his murder charges. Prosecutors dropped other charges he previously faced: two counts of using a firearm to commit a crime, and one each of armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
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Because the 2007 double-homicide preceded changes in Georgia law allowing judges to sentence defendants to life with no possibility of parole, Registe will be eligible for parole and will be entitled to credit for the time he already has served. attorneys said.
Arora said that credit for time served extends back to Aug. 28, 2008, Registe's first day of incarceration on the Caribbean island of St. Maarten, where Dutch authorities detained him the day before. Given five years' credit, Registe would be eligible for parole in 2038, when he will be 55 years old.
His sentencing brings to an end a six-year saga that began at 9:23 p.m. July 20, 2007, when police called to a shooting at Cross Creek Apartments found Kilgore in the driver’s seat of a Chevrolet Blazer and Newton on the ground outside the passenger’s side door. Both had been shot in the head outside the 3911 Steam Mill Road apartments.
Murphree recited some facts of the case against Registe, though her narrative lacked significant details. She said Registe was in the Blazer with Kilgore and Newton when it pulled into the Cross Creek Apartments parking lot and circled around to the rear. Witnesses hearing gunshots reported seeing the Blazer roll down a hill and come to a stop after striking another vehicle, and then one individual got out and walked away.
Authorities arriving on the crime scene found Newton dead, but Kilgore still alive. He died later at the hospital.
Afterward a witness saw Registe walking up and down a nearby street while talking on a cell phone. Soon a friend in another sport-utility vehicle picked him up.
It was in that second vehicle that a blood trail began, Murphree said: Registe had a victim's blood on his clothes and left some of that blood on the car seat. He went to a motel where he left a cap with a victim's blood on it. At a third site he left the murder weapon, which also had a victim's blood on it, Murphree said.
The next day, Registe went to the Atlanta airport with a flight reservation he'd already made under the name "Kareem Penn" -- the name of a real person who had no involvement in the crime -- and flew out of the country.
Behind he left two grieving families, on whose behalf Kilgore's father Guy Kilgore spoke at today's sentencing, recalling how he was summoned to The Medical Center that Friday. When he arrived there, he was told his son's body lived, but it was only a shell: His brain was gone.
Today the families have only memories of those two young men, memories they will cherish, Guy Kilgore said, adding that he hopes Registe will never forget what he did to those families, nor what he did to his own.
Registe today made only a brief statement apologizing to his victims' families.
A few of Registe's family members were in the courtroom, including a young son who was given one last visit with his father before Registe was sent off to prison.
In the hours immediately after the fatal shootings, Columbus police tracked the borrowed Blazer to its owner, Lawrence Kidd, whom investigators called at 2:05 a.m. Kidd told them Kilgore had given him a phone number for someone named "Mike," whom Kilgore was to meet.
Kidd told police he called the number when Kilgore didn't return the Blazer. "Mike" told him Kilgore had left two hours earlier, then hung up on him.
At 8:07 a.m. July 21, 2008, Cricket Communications gave police data showing the cell phone’s use from 8:34 to 10:11 the previous evening. With those records, police started making “cold calls” to the numbers listed until they found someone who could identify Registe, who for his cell phone account again had used the name "Kareem Penn."
The following day, July 22, 2007, they got warrants charging Registe with two counts of murder. Two days later, they served a search warrant at 5543 Teresa St., where they found and confiscated the cell phone and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.
When police learned Registe had fled the country, they brought in the FBI and initiated an international manhunt for the fugitive. The case gained widespread media attention when Registe made the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list and was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.” The case continued to make headlines after his capture, twice going to the Georgia Supreme Court before it could be set for trial.
Though authorities on St. Maarten of the Netherlands Antilles took Registe into custody On Aug. 27, 2008, he was not extradited to the United States until July 23, 2009, with Dutch officials surrendering him on the condition prosecutors here not seek the death penalty.
On Aug. 4, 2009, Columbus attorney Stacey Jackson became Registe’s defense attorney, but not for long. Before he went into private practice in July 2008, Jackson since August 2000 had worked in the district attorney’s office, and as a prosecutor had signed three search warrant applications seeking Registe’s cell phone records.
Prosecutors argued Jackson had a conflict, and on Sept. 25, 2009, then-Judge Doug Pullen agreed and ordered Jackson to leave the case. Jackson appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, which upheld Pullen’s decision on July 12, 2010.
Jackson was replaced by Arora, an Atlanta attorney who on Jan. 7, 2011, filed a motion to suppress the cell phone data police used to identify and track Registe. Superior Court Judge John Allen rejected Arora's motion a year later, ruling that detectives had acquired only the telephone numbers Registe called, not the content of private conversations. Those numbers belonged to Cricket Communications, not to Registe, Allen wrote.
Arora appealed that decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, which upheld Allen’s ruling in November 2012.
Once the defense lost that appeal, its options were limited, Arora said today: The evidence against Registe was damning.
"This was the best we could do today, with the charges pending against him," the attorney said. "I think legally we were in the right. This is a very serious case. Had this been a small drug case, I think the decision by the high court would have been different, but it is what it is: It's a double-homicide."
Though no one from the Newton family addressed the court during sentencing, Newton's aunt Mary Ingram spoke to reporters afterward.
"Something like this is hard to get over, so we'll never get over it," she said softly. "Randy was a very loving, kind young man... He probably would have been a professional basketball player by now."
She sighed deeply. "Well," she said, "we can keep his memory alive, so we thank God for this day."