CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Kanawha County man pleaded guilty just as his trial was to begin on a first-degree murder charge involving his childhood friend.
Tremale Straughter, 29, of Rand was arrested Feb. 15 after a four-hour manhunt that prompted the closure of more than a dozen schools. Prosecutors said Straughter gunned down Harold "Don Don" Taylor, 29, in his vehicle with an AK-47 assault rifle.
Attorneys were preparing to select a jury when Straughter asked to confer with his family about a possible plea agreement. He re-entered the courtroom, gave a long, pointed look at cameras, and told Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey he intended to plead guilty.
In exchange for that plea, prosecutors will ask that three charges of malicious wounding be dropped. They have also agreed not to seek enhanced penalties based on a prior federal drug offense and will not address the judge concerning his possible sentence.
Federal prosecutors also have agreed not to pursue charges against Straughter for being a felon in posession of a firearm.
Straughter could be sentenced to life in the penitentiary.
His defense attorney, Ed Rebrook, told Bailey that he believed the state could have won a conviction if the case had gone to trial. But he indicated he would call witnesses to testify on Straughter's behalf at his January sentencing hearing.
Rebrook said Straughter doesn't remember any of the events because he was "blind drunk."
Straughter and Taylor had been friends for years and played basketball and football together as youths.
But Assistant Prosecutor Dan Holstein outlined for the judge how their relationship ended.
"Tremale Straughter shot his car at least 30 times," Holstein said. "The victim was shot multiple times and he essentially bled out in the car."