Two plead guilty to lesser charges in fatal 2012 shooting caused by fight for gun during drug deal

A struggle for a handgun during a drug deal led to the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Gregory Gardner on Sept. 4, 2012, according to testimony Muscogee Superior Court Judge John Allen heard Monday as two defendants in the case pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Assistant District Attorney William Hocutt told Allen Gardner was in the kitchen of 1908-A Lenox Drive that evening selling marijuana to Luther Shannon Thomas when Thomas pulled a gun and tried to rob Gardner. As they fought, the gun went off, the bullet penetrating Gardner’s neck, Hocutt said.

With Thomas that day was Michael Frazier, who Thomas later told police was unaware Thomas planned to rob Gardner, attorneys said. Frazier was charged because he drove Thomas to and from the Lenox Drive home.

Thomas and Frazier were 22 years old when the homicide happened.

A witness told investigators that after Thomas and Frazier fled, he took the marijuana and threw it out in the woods, Hocutt said. But police later determined the witness tried to sell the marijuana, which still had Gardner’s blood on it, the prosecutor said.

Thomas pleaded guilty to manslaughter and criminal attempt armed robbery. Allen sentenced him to 20 years in prison with 12 to serve, the rest on probation.

Frazier pleaded guilty to criminal attempt robbery. Allen sentenced him to 10 years in prison with five to serve. Hocutt said Frazier was on probation when the shooting happened, having been convicted in April 2010 of aggravated assault for wounding someone with a shotgun blast of birdshot.

The sentencing was preceded by remarks from Gardner’s family. “They don’t deserve to be on the street,” a grandmother said of the defendants.

“It’s not fair that they’re still here. They’re still breathing and he isn’t,” said a sister, who said her child still asks for Uncle Greg, and she can’t explain that her brother’s gone forever.

Another sister said she was nine months’ pregnant when her brother died. To the defendants, she said: “I just want you to see the value of life is more than a dollar.”

Representing Thomas, attorney Tim Flournoy told Allen his client claimed Gardner saw Thomas’ gun tucked in Thomas’ waistband and wanted to buy it. When Thomas wouldn’t sell, Gardner tried to grab the gun, initiating the struggle, Flournoy said.

Hocutt said Thomas never told police that story.

Thomas had no prior felony convictions, Flournoy said. Thomas’ mother told Allen her son, a Spencer High School graduate, has been working since he was 16. The shooting must have been an accident, she said. “I’m so sorry, sir,” she told the judge.

An older brother said Thomas had always been a “good kid,” and this was out of character for him. “He didn’t go in there intentionally to kill someone,” the brother said.

Attorney Michael Eddings, who represented Frazier, said his client felt “extreme remorse” for Gardner’s death, but did not know Thomas had planned to rob Gardner.

Allen in pronouncing the sentence lamented the lethal mix of youth and firearms that led to Gardner’s fatal shooting. Youth and guns are a “stupid combination,” the judge said.