Cape man gets maximum for killing

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Gregory McNeely, who pleaded guilty in July to killing Terry Vernon Lynn II outside a Cape Girardeau bar, will serve a life sentence for the crime, the maximum he could receive for second-degree murder.

Presiding Judge Mark Richardson of Butler County handed down the sentence to 25-year-old McNeely Tuesday morning. It is the sentence Cape Girardeau County Prosecutor Morley Swingle recommended at the plea hearing.

McNeely admitted that he shot Lynn in the head at close range with a .380-caliber gun behind Players Bar at 632 Broadway on Halloween night in 2003. Both men were Cape Girardeau residents.

At the sentencing, seven members of McNeely's family asked Richardson for leniency in sentencing. The same number of Lynn's family members asked the judge to hand down the maximum sentence. Swingle said he asked Richardson to "draw a line in the sand for Butler County and Cape Girardeau County to assure that anyone who takes the life of a human being with a gun gets a life sentence."

McNeely's attorney, Stephen Wilson of Cape Girardeau, said he did not believe the maximum sentence was warranted for second-degree murder.

"The Department of Probation and Parole guidelines showed a sentence of 17 to 20 years," Wilson said. "There were no aggravating factors that called for a maximum sentence."

Since McNeely pleaded guilty, he cannot appeal the sentence. He will be eligible for parole after he has served 25.5 years -- 85 percent of the 30 years considered to make up a life sentence.

Lynn's father, Terry Lynn Sr. of Powder Springs, Ga., said whether or not McNeely's life sentence is fair is tough to call.

"I don't think there are any winners in this situation," Lynn said. "The judge read all the evidence, and he gave what he could within the law, and it's fair. I don't want to take Greg's life because my son's life is gone. I want him to be punished for sure, but I hate to say I want to take his life. It wouldn't change anything."

Lynn, who was 26, and McNeely argued the night of the shooting. McNeely left and came back a short time later with a gun. McNeely said during his plea hearing in July that he had been so intoxicated on alcohol and drugs at the time of the shooting that he could not remember pointing the gun at anyone or firing at anybody. He said he remembered having the gun in his hand and firing a shot. When he was arrested six hours after the shooting, his blood alcohol level was .118, well above the .08 level for legal intoxication.

McNeely had been arrested previously for domestic assault, and a .380-caliber handgun had been taken from him at the time of that arrest. It was returned to him at the conclusion of the domestic assault case, although the law states that anyone who has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence can no longer legally own a firearm or ammunition.

Swingle was the one who signed the evidence release form that authorized the police to give the gun back to McNeely. The prosecutor was criticized for returning the gun to McNeely, although the gun was not involved in the domestic violence case. Swingle has since changed the procedure in his office for releasing evidence, creating a separate form for firearms to ensure that none is returned to anyone who cannot legally have one.

Taking lives

Rhonda Holshouser, who works at Players where the incident occurred, organized a benefit concert in November to raise money for Lynn's family. Tuesday afternoon she recalled her friend Terry Lynn and said she hates what happened to both him and McNeely, whom she said she doesn't know personally.

"I hate that Greg has to give his life up for something stupid that he had done," Holshouser said. "He has a baby and a family to think about. I wish he would have thought about it sooner. So may lives would have been different."

Holshouser said she thought the life sentence was fair.

"He took a life, so I guess he should have to give his up," she said. "At least his family will still have him around and can talk to him. That's more than Terry's family has."

Wilson said it has been a hard time for McNeely's family as well.

"It's been a grueling ordeal for them," she said. "They believed from the beginning that Greg did not intentionally kill anyone. If anything he fired a shot in the air. In the drunken state he was in the gun went off."

Prior to being sentenced, McNeely apologized to Lynn's family, Swingle said.

"He said he accepted the responsibility for what he had done and was sure that there was nothing he could do to remedy the harm he had caused," Swingle said. "He was very, very sorry for what he had done."

Swingle said the apology was the most sincere he had ever heard come from a defendant in a courtroom.

335-6611, extension 160

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