Man pleads guilty in Cape bar killing

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Admitting that he was too drunk to know whether he was shooting anyone when he fired a fatal shot outside a Cape Girardeau bar, Gregory A. McNeely pleaded guilty Tuesday to the murder of Terry Vernon Lynn II, an architecture student at Southeast Missouri State University.

McNeely, 25, of Cape Girardeau admitted to shooting Lynn in the parking lot behind Players Lounge at 632 Broadway in Cape Girardeau just before 2 a.m. Nov. 1. Several witnesses at the bar saw McNeely shoot Lynn, 26, once in the head from a distance of 20 to 30 feet. Police recovered the weapon, a .380-caliber handgun, and a spent shell.

Under a plea agreement with defense attorney Stephen C. Wilson, prosecutor Morley Swingle reduced the original charge of first-degree murder to second-degree murder and dismissed one count of armed criminal action.

Members of Lynn's family said Tuesday they were angry that the case didn't go before a jury, that the armed criminal action charge was dropped and that the murder charge was lowered from first-degree to second-degree. They were also angry certain family members were not notified of the change in plans.

"We were planning on a trial," said Roberta Lynn, Terry Lynn's aunt. Roberta Lynn said various family members had planned to attend a pretrial conference the day the plea was arranged. They said they wanted the death penalty.

Swingle said the death penalty does not apply in this case. In his view, the prosecutor said, he bargained for justice and got the harshest sentence he could.

"Justice in this case was second-degree murder," he said.

In order to prove first-degree murder, Swingle said, he would have had to show beyond reasonable doubt that McNeely planned to kill Lynn.

"The facts were very weak," Swingle said.

Manslaughter, the prosecutor pointed out, carries a sentence of only seven years. A slim chance existed that McNeely could have walked free.

Swingle added that the autopsy on Lynn showed that he had methamphetamine and marijuana in his system and cocaine in his pocket. Minutes before he was shot, Lynn had been sitting in a car with a loaded gun in the console inches away from his hand. Had those facts come out in testimony before a jury, it could have weakened the case against McNeely, Swingle said.

As for notifying the family of the plea bargain, Swingle said that, as is required, he notified the immediate family. Roberta Lynn said that Lynn's natural mother had given up all rights to Lynn when he was a child, and that his stepmother who raised him should have been the one notified. His father, Terry Lynn Sr., is in China on business and was left a voice-mail message.

Swingle added that an investigator in his office also notified the dead man's uncle, Walter Jones, a probation and parole officer.

"If the family members don't communicate with each other, I don't view that as the prosecutor's fault," he said.

Too drunk to recall

According to Swingle, McNeely testified that he was so intoxicated on alcohol and drugs at the time of the shooting that he could not remember the details. He remembered having the gun in his hand and remembered firing a shot, Swingle said, but did not remember pointing the gun at any specific person nor firing at anybody. Examinations by two different psychiatrists confirmed that McNeely was so affected by drugs and alcohol that he would not have known what he was doing that night, the prosecutor said.

Witnesses to the shooting confirmed to police during the investigation that they had seen McNeely drink most of a 12-pack of beer during the evening, as well as beer from pitchers in the bar and some Jagermeister liquor. McNeely also claimed to have injected methamphetamine earlier in the day.

When he was arrested at his mother's home six hours after the shooting, his blood alcohol level was tested at a level of 0.118, well over 0.08, the legal level for intoxication.

"Under Missouri law, intoxication is not a complete defense to criminal activity," Swingle said, "but it is a factor to consider when assessing whether a defendant had the ability to deliberate about his crime."

McNeely gave his guilty plea in front of Circuit Judge Mark Richardson at the Butler County Courthouse in Poplar Bluff, Mo., on a change of venue.

Richardson said he would not schedule sentencing until after he receives the report from the probation and parole board, which usually takes four to six weeks. Second-degree murder carries a range of punishment from 10 to 30 years or life in prison. Swingle said he intends to ask for a life sentence.

Richardson is free to impose any sentence within the range of punishment. Under the "Truth in Sentencing" law, McNeely will serve 85 percent of whatever sentence he receives.

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

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