Second defendant in Cape County shooting case gets 50 years

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Seth Summers

Seth Summers wasn't the trigger man, but on Monday he received the same sentence as the man who was -- 50 years in prison for being involved in what the judge described as a "horrific crime" in which the accomplice was just as responsible as the man who fired the shots.

Despite pleas for mercy from one former co-worker and Summers himself, Judge William Syler sentenced Summers to two consecutive 25-year terms in prison for his role in the shooting of Joshua Abernathie after a night of heavy drinking in August 2011. Summers was found guilty of first-degree assault and armed criminal action by a Cape Girardeau County jury last month.

The assault charge falls under Missouri's dangerous-felony statute, meaning Summers, now 32, will serve at least 85 percent of the sentences. Armed criminal action carries a minimum three-year prison sentence with no upper limit.

Syler's sentence mirrored assistant prosecutor Jack Koester's recommendation, despite Summers being charged as an accomplice. The victim testified at both trials that he, Bell and Summers had gotten together to "hang out" that night more than a year ago. The men were driving around and drinking and stopped near Neelys Landing when they got out of the car and continued to drink. Between 2 and 3 a.m., Summers grabbed Abernathie from behind and said "we're doing this," Abernathie said. Then Summers sprayed Abernathie in the face with Mace.

Abernathie said he heard five more shots as he ran into the nearby woods and hid until authorities arrived.

Koester told the judge that Summers was "equally culpable" as co-defendant Jimmy Ray Bell, who was sentenced in July. Koester pointed out that Summers brought the revolver, grabbed the victim and sprayed him with Mace as part of a vague plan where motive was never made plain. Koester countered at both trials that "senseless violence" happens frequently.

Summers also went along with Bell, Koester said, bringing duct tape and bleach as part of planning that "plainly shows clear deliberation."

Not everyone in the courtroom was rooting for the judge to be hard on Summers, who graduated summa cum laude from Southern Illinois University and is the son of a Baptist minister who is dying of cancer.

One agency that recommended a lighter sentence was the Missouri Department of Probation and Parole, which prepared a presentence report and recommendation. Defense lawyer Michael Maguire said the report showed Summers had lived an "exemplary life" with only one run-in with the law for a speeding ticket. The report asked for probation for Summers, although Maguire acknowledged that his client would have to serve the three years that are mandatory for the armed criminal action charge.

"I'm disappointed for my client," Maguire said afterward. "I think he has shown remorse. I think it was an incredibly violent crime and that probably controlled the dictates of what happened. ... But he was hoping there would be some mercy shown him in regards to the time he would look at. To use an old trite phrase, it is what it is."

Maguire, who was filling in for Al Lowes, said he was not sure if Summers would appeal.

The judge also dismissed Summers' call for leniency for himself. Carrying a yellow piece of legal paper in his county jail uniform, Summers said he was sorry for what happened to Abernathie, who no longer has use of his left eye and has a bullet lodged in his sinus cavity.

"My bad decisions have hurt many people, not just physically but emotionally as well," Summers said. "Although I did not pull the trigger, I did not say no to Mr. Bell."

A former co-worker, Christy Montgomery, told Syler that she still doesn't believe that Summers is guilty. Montgomery got to know him when the two worked together at Sears Grand in Cape Girardeau. Montgomery described her friend as compassionate and generous and even helped her pay a utility bill.

"The people at Sears know him and love him and know that he is not capable of hurting another person," Montgomery said. "Seth helps people, he doesn't hurt people."

The victim was not present for Summers sentencing Monday because he too is incarcerated. Abernathie is serving a three-year sentence for tampering with a motor vehicle in Jefferson City, Mo. He also has been convicted of second-degree assault in 2007 and second-degree burglary in 2010.


Pertinent address:

100 Court St., Jackson, MO

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