Man pleads guilty, sentenced for role in fatal 2017 shooting at Columbus Pawn Shop
The case against a boy who was 15 when he was wounded in a pawn shop shootout that followed the murder of a store employee will go to Juvenile Court.
The decision means Quintavis Bernard Williams will no longer face murder charges in Muscogee Superior Court.
With prosecutors and defense attorneys agreeing to the transfer, Judge William Rumer sent the case against Williams to Muscogee Juvenile Court on Monday, the day Williams was set to go to trial in Superior Court.
He and co-defendant Marquiell Wilson were indicted on charges of murder, attempted murder, attempted armed robbery and two counts of aggravated assault in the Dec. 20, 2017, slaying of 68-year-old war veteran Joseph Howard Johnson III in what was then the Columbus Pawn Shop, 2241 Fort Benning Road.
In a negotiated plea Friday, Wilson pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder and attempted armed robbery in return for a sentence of life with possible parole, plus 30 years. Wilson was 21 in 2017, and has since turned 22.
Authorities said Wilson put a gun to Johnson’s head and pulled the trigger as Johnson sat at a computer in the store. Williams was standing nearby.
Attorney J. Mark Shelnutt, who represents Williams along with law partner William Kendrick, said Assistant District Attorney Mark Anthony agreed to transfer the case to Juvenile Court. Anthony was not immediately available for comment.
Shelnutt said Williams now is charged only with attempted armed robbery. He has been held in juvenile detention since his arrest the day of the homicide. Shelnutt did not expect his client to go to trial in Juvenile Court, where Williams’ maximum sentence would be five years, he said.
After Wilson shot Johnson, he went after a second store employee, Daniel Lee, who was in the back of the shop. Wilson walked back firing a 9mm pistol, shooting Lee in the shoulder, before Lee fired back, wounding both suspects.
The north-side glass door through which they’d entered the store had an automatic lock, and would not open unless an employee hit a button to let visitors in and out. Panicked, both Wilson and Williams hit the door at the same time, bursting through and knocking it off its hinges, and ran.
They did not get far: Williams was found yards away on Torch Hill Road, and police soon discovered Wilson in the woods about a block south, yelling in pain. He lost so much blood that doctors induced a coma to restore his supply, and amputated the lower half of his leg.
Released from the hospital Jan. 1, 2018, he went straight to jail.
In court Friday, Wilson’s attorney Victoria Novak read a letter from her client, who thanked Lee for saving his life.
“What I can say is that because of my actions, I’ve had the time to do a lot of thinking, and to be honest I shouldn’t be alive today,” the letter read in part. “I’m here because Daniel Lee saved me. He saved me from my own self-destruction. He gave me a second chance at life, and I thank God for it. Daniel could have taken my life, and in my eyes he would not have been wrong for doing so. A close friend of his was taken from him in front of his eyes. He will never forget it.”
Lee came to court on Feb. 26, when Wilson initially was set to plead guilty, and asked Rumer to defer sentencing Wilson to life without parole. Lee didn’t want to strip the killer of any hope for a life outside prison, Novak said.
Despite the shocking violence recorded on the store video, the plea and sentence were appropriate, under the circumstances, and ensured Wilson’s case would not be appealed, Anthony wrote in a statement emailed Friday:
“A negotiated guilty plea is for most intents and purposes completely unappealable, creating a finality for victims and their families that is frequently missing after a jury verdict, which can sometimes be reversed on technicalities that are beyond the control of the state. And a plea can also spare a victim from having to relive horrifically traumatic events in a very stressful context, which, I believe, is an important factor on the scales of justice that must be weighed.”
Novak said Wilson did not want Lee to have to relive what he witnessed while testifying in a murder trial.