First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON - Shawn Gilbert Clark picked life rather than risking death - an option that his former girlfriend and her boyfriend didn't have when they were murdered during an ambush.
Clark, 33, pled guilty Wednesday to two counts of first-degree murder in the May 9, 2000, killings of Teresa Locklear and William Lee Hunt. He was sentenced to two life sentences, which were consolidated, without the possibility of parole. The plea deal came a day after jury selection began.
District Attorney Johnson Britt had planned on seeking the death penalty had the case gone to trial. He said he offered the plea because he thought jurors might not convict Clark in a circumstantial case that relied heavily on the eye-witness testimony of Ryan Locklear, who was 11 at the time of the murders.
Ryan was in the back seat of a car when a gunman wearing a ski mask shot his mother and her boyfriend several times each in the head. Ryan, who wasn't hurt, ran from the car and called for help.
“The question came down to whether a jury of 12 would be unanimous in their belief of Ryan. He would have had to convince them beyond a reasonable doubt that (Clark) was the perpetrator,” Britt said. “The main issue was identifying the perpetrator. He said he was certain it was Clark. He recognized the ski mask as the one Clark had worn feeding the hogs because he didn't like getting bit by the bugs. He had also seen the ski mask in some clothes that his mother packed up when she ended the relationship.”
Clark's decision to take the deal may also have hinged on what jurors would hear from Ryan. Clark listened to the tape recording of the 911 call Ryan made shortly after the murders. Sheriff Ken Sealey gave Clark and his lawyers permission to listen to the recordings from his holding cell at the Robeson County Courthouse Monday night.
“The recording is chilling … to hear a 11-year-old boy describe how his mother and her boyfriend were shot to death,” Britt said.
Ryan was in the courtroom when Clark entered his plea. Teresa Locklear's other son, Jonathan Heaton, her mother, Mildred Doss, her brother, Marcus Smiling, and Hunt's brother, Tyrone Hunt, were also there. None of the victims' relatives addressed the court.
Britt said Clark was waiting outside Teresa Locklear's home on Smiling Road in the early hours of May 8. Locklear and Hunt had just changed a tire and were preparing to take Ryan Locklear to school when the masked gunman appeared. Locklear, 32, was shot three times in the head and once in the chest. Hunt, 33, was shot six times in the head. All the shots were fired from close range, Britt said.
Clark had been released from the Scotland County jail five days before the murders. Locklear had broken up with him before he was jailed in January 1999 on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and shooting into a house. He was released after a judge lowered his bond from $500,000 to $130,000.
Clark's criminal record dates back to 1989, when he was 17. In 1994, Clark was charged in the shooting death of Freddy Robert Strickland, but that case was dismissed.
The murders sparked a two-year nationwide manhunt for Clark. He was eventually tracked to a jail in Cancun, Mexico, where he had been charged for illegally entering the country. He was extradited to Robeson County in April 2002.
Britt said he offered Clark a plea deal two weeks ago. It included pleading guilty to the murder charges, shooting into an occupied vehicle, an unrelated assault charge from 1998 and an habitual felon charge.
Clark's defense team, Carlton Mansfield and Harold “Butch” Pope, rejected the offer. On Tuesday, Clark's lawyers offered a new deal, which including pleading guilty to two counts of murder and dropping all other charges. That deal Britt accepted.
“We were told for four years that we were going to trial,” Mansfield said. “We spent the last four years trying to put the best possible spin on the case.”
Britt said he was satisfied with the plea.
“Afterward I was asked if justice was served. It was served 99.9 percent,” Britt said. “It would have been 100 percent if he had gotten the death penalty. By entering the plea we avoid litigation over the next several years.”
Britt said relatives of the murder victims had agreed to the plea bargain.