CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The man charged with killing two North Carolina university students and wounding four others in their classroom in April pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of first-degree murder.
Trystan Andrew Terrell, 23, also pleaded guilty Thursday to four counts of attempted murder and discharge of a firearm on educational property. State prosecutors accepted Terrell's plea during a hearing that was previously scheduled to decide whether the gunman could face the death penalty for the killings at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
The shooting at UNCC happened April 30.
Terrell admitted from the beginning he went to the Kennedy Building armed to kill that day. He recounted the shooting in detail to detectives hours later.
Terrell was sentenced to two life sentences without parole.
Riley Howell, 21, of Waynesville, and Ellis Reed Parlier, 19, of Midland, died after each was shot multiple times, according to their autopsy reports.
Those victims' mothers spoke about the pain they have been living with.
"Your honor, the defendant took our son," Reed Parlier’s mother, Julie Parlier, said after the plea deal.
"We will never forgive him (Terrell) for his actions," Parlier said. "If the defendant wanted to kill someone, he should have turned the gun on himself. May you rot in hell and suffer torture."
“Today, we finish what Riley started,” said Riley Howell’s mother, Natalie Howell.
A statement from Chancellor Dubois on today's news: pic.twitter.com/jvIhm3AJU4— UNC Charlotte News (@UNCCnews) September 19, 2019
Samantha Coop graduated from the university since the tragedy.
“It was really traumatizing,” Coop said. “I thought it was my obligation to see it through to the end with him.”
She vividly remembers April 30.
“I was getting phone calls and text messages from my friends that were scared,” Coop said. “My parents and family out of town were calling and asking me if I was OK.”
Terrell apologized to the victims' families inside the courtroom.
“I am so sorry to everybody,” Terrell said. “I really messed up. If I could go back in time and even to the very second to where I entered that classroom, I would do that. I am so sorry. I made a mistake.”
Terrell’s attorneys spoke about how the suspect has been living with autism and that he was isolated and unable to socialize.
They said he panicked, and the shooting was a cry for help.
Spencer Merriweather III, Mecklenburg County District Attorney, told a news conference after the hearing the thought the decision to accept the plea deal was the right call because it saves families the anguish of enduring a death penalty trial.
"Today brings justice to the man who brought unspeakable harm to the victims, survivors and their families," Merriweather said.
However, at least one of the victims objected to the plea agreement, which effectively allows Terrell to escape the death penalty.
It's a deal that has caught some by surprise.
“I’m surprised that it's going this quickly,” said Rob Corbett, a defense attorney and former prosecutor.
Corbett said earlier in the week if Terrell went to trial, the case could drag on for two years or more and require victims and their families to testify, with no guarantees the outcome would be any different.
“I understand it's a hard call to make from the prosecutor's office but probably the right outcome,” Corbett said.
At UNCC, the Kennedy Building where the shooting happened is still closed to everyone but faculty and staff, and no one has forgotten the shock that followed the shooting.
“My friends and I actually saw the cops pull in to behind the library,” student Maryam Thomas said.
Thomas is a junior now. She said the plea deal may help students and the school move on with the process of healing.
“I think justice needs to be served for everyone here on campus, for all the staff, for the victims and the victims' families. I think it's time, and I'm glad that they're expediting how long this is taking, because justice needs to be served,” Thomas said.
Prosecutors have discussed their decision with the surviving victims and the families of the two students who were killed.
One of the survivors of the shooting, Drew Pescaro, posted a series of tweets Wednesday night reacting to the possible plea.
He expressed frustration saying in part, "Life in prison, and he got it by committing a school shooting. His plan to get life in prison worked, and he got everything he wanted out of the situation.
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