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Decatur man sentenced to 2 years in shooting death, says he acted in self-defense
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Decatur man sentenced to 2 years in shooting death, says he acted in self-defense

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Deonta M. Merriweather

Deonta M. Merriweather

DECATUR — Deonta M. Merriweather was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday after apologizing in court to the family of the Decatur man he said he had to shoot to death to protect his own life.

Merriweather, 23, had used a legally owned weapon in the Oct. 25 killing of Ernest L. Wren Jr., whom both Merriweather and witnesses said was armed with his own handgun as the two men fought in the 900 block of North Van Dyke Street. Wren, shot multiple times, died at the scene.

Merriweather, who did not have a concealed carry permit, pleaded guilty to a single charge of the aggravated unlawful use of a weapon.

Rising to speak, he said he was not the heartless killer described in recent media interviews in which Wren’s family had asked why he wasn’t being tried for murder.

“First of all, I would like to send my condolences to the family of the victim,” he said. “That was never my intention,” he said of the killing. “It was just an unfortunate situation where I was protecting my life, that is what it came down to. I’ve seen the picture on the news and media ... that’s not what I am, I am far from that.”

A sworn affidavit about the shooting from Decatur Police said Merriweather became caught up in an argument involving several men outside a car wash. Merriweather and Wren had begun fighting; both witnesses and Merriweather said Wren had asked another man, Christopher M. Hutton, to pass him a gun.

Detective Jason Kuchelmeister said Wren was described as having “racked the slide” to chamber a round as if he was about to fire the weapon. “(A witness) advised Mr. Merriweather then produced and discharged his firearm, striking/ killing (Wren),” Kuchelmeister added.

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Hutton fled the scene but not before he had been shot in the left thigh and right foot, Kuchelmeister said. Hutton, 27, has pleaded not guilty to the aggravated unlawful use of a weapon and his case has a status hearing set for March 16.

Defending Merriweather, attorney Caleb Brown told Judge Jeffrey Geisler that his client had immediately confessed what happened to arriving police officers. Calling for a sentence of probation and 180 days in the Macon County Jail with credit for time already served in custody, Brown pointed to Merriweather’s lack of a criminal record and the fact his gun was owned legally.

“Mr. Merriweather is not charged with acting aggressively or battering anyone by the use of a firearm or anything like that,” Brown added.

But Assistant Macon County State’s Attorney Timothy Tighe called for a maximum three-year sentence to act as a deterrent to others.

“We would ask the court to send a message that people who have no legal business carrying guns should not do that, that it is not OK, and settling disputes with shooting is not OK.”

Judge Geisler said he noted the circumstances of the case and Merriweather’s clean record, but said gun violence could not be tolerated. “There is a problem with guns in Macon County, that is more than clear, I see it on a regular basis in my courtroom,” he added.

“But no matter what I sentence Mr. Merriweather to, it will not be enough for the family who has lost somebody, and I am very well aware of that,” he said.


Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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