BELTON — The trial of a 30-year-old former Fort Hood soldier accused of murdering of another soldier outside of a Killeen Denny’s restaurant in 2011 ended abruptly Tuesday afternoon when the accused opted to plead guilty.
Michael Fitzgerald Reese, a former member of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, was convicted of murder following his decision to halt his trial and confess to the shooting.
Reese killed Spc. Justin Sheldon Richardson, 25, in the early morning hours of April 2, 2011, following an argument inside the Denny’s at Fort Hood Street and Central Texas Expressway.
The crime was witnessed by several patrons and staff, many of whom identified Reese as the shooter during Tuesday’s testimony. The prosecution was in the process of putting on its case when Reese notified the court he wished to enter a guilty plea.
Reese has remained in jail since his arrest. The Army discharged him after demoting him to private on May 14.
Reese entered an open plea, leaving a range of punishment from five years to life in prison. He will be sentenced by 27th District Court Judge John Gauntt on Sept. 16.
Reese shot Richardson twice following a confrontation inside the restaurant. According to court documents and testimony, several people were sitting at a table when Reese and another man approached them.
Reese was dating one of the females at the table and had been out with the group at a club earlier.
He was angry with the woman, according to court documents, and ordered her to get up. She refused.
Richardson then intervened, attempting to calm the situation, a employee of the restaurant testified. Security and a waitress managed to get Reese outside, where he continued to speak with Richardson.
Witnesses told the court it never appeared as though Richardson intended to attack Reese. He then shot Richardson twice and ran from the scene. Richardson died in the restaurant’s parking lot.
Both prosecutor Ed Vallejo and Reese’s defense attorney, Michael White, said a defendant deciding to enter in a guilty plea once trial has started is unique. It happened during the first trial of “laundry room rapist” Bradric Givante Dwarren Fransaw in 2011.
The court had taken a brief recess as a comfort break for the jury, which was selected Monday, when White notified the court of Reese’s intentions.
But prior to court being recessed, Vallejo asked for Richardson’s widow, Kirsten Richardson, to put testimony on the record.
Kirsten Richardson told the court she had known Justin Richardson for most of her life. The two went to the same high school, lived in the same public housing building in the Bronx, New York City, and began dating when they were both 15 years old.
Kirsten Richardson, 25, said she had known nothing of her life without her husband. She became very emotional when speaking about their 5-year-old son growing up without him.
“My son loses memories of him daily, and I have to remind him,” she told the court. “He will never remember my husband’s laugh or his face or all of the great things that he was. He’ll never know it, he’ll never know it. They took everything from us, everything.”
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.