DECATUR — As part of a plea deal, Zachary M. Pherigo of Decatur pleaded guilty Thursday to involuntary manslaughter in the Oct. 14 shooting death of his 2-year-old nephew; previous murder charges against him were dismissed.
In Macon County Circuit Court on Thursday, Pherigo also pleaded guilty to aggravated discharge of a firearm and obstruction of justice for giving false information to the police. He will be sentenced June 6 in adult court as part of the deal with all sentences imposed to run concurrently. It will be up to the judge to decide the length of any prison sentence.
Aggravated discharge of a firearm, a Class 1 felony, carries up to a 15-year prison sentence and, because a firearm was used, 85 percent of any sentence must be served. Involuntary manslaughter has a maximum 14-year sentence, and obstructing justice carries a up to a three-year prison term.
Now 18, Pherigo is currently being held on $500,000 bond in Macon County Jail. He previously had been held at the Peoria County Juvenile Detention Center.
Pherigo waved to family members as he was led out of court. Family declined a request for comment as they left the courthouse.
Justin Lee Murphy Jr. was shot in the back Oct. 14 in the 1400 block of East Wellington Way, Decatur police said. Pherigo, 17 at the time of the shooting, told police the shooting was an accident while playing "cops and robbers" with a .45-caliber handgun he had found a day earlier near a dumpster.
Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott had originally charged Pherigo as an adult with first-degree murder. Pherigo had pleaded not guilty to that charge.
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Judge Jeffrey Geisler read out loud the new set of charges and carefully went through them with Pherigo who said he understood but then hesitated when the judge said he would be sentenced in adult court.
Defense attorney Steve Perbix spoke to Pherigo and told Geisler that his client just wants to make sure the court will consider all mitigating factors when weighing sentence. Geisler told Pherigo that he understood, as part of the sentencing, that any such mitigation would be considered.
Assistant Macon County State's Attorney Kate Kurtz said that, as part of the plea agreement, the prosecution is not seeking an additional sentence enhancement because a gun was used in the killing.
Kurtz told the judge that she has met with the victim's mother, Pherigo's sister, and the victim's father, to discuss and explain the plea deal. "... And they understand and accept the plea and this is done with their full consent," she added. "I think it's important for the court to know that."
Kurtz said she had offered the opportunity for both parents to make a victim impact statement at Pherigo's sentencing and they have not yet decided whether they will do that.