By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
The sentencing hearing for a Killeen man accused of murder came to a sudden halt Friday after defendant Ricky Lavelle Johnson told the court that the death of the victim in the incident was an accidental shooting.
Bell County prosecutor Paul McWilliams said Johnson's testimony that he had unintentionally shot Vaughn Wattley on July 23, 2009, violated his plea agreement with the court. McWilliams said he would seek to indict Johnson again on the elevated charge of capital murder, and that a jury trial would need to be conducted.
Johnson, 22, had signed a guilty plea June 28 stating he had "knowingly and willingly" shot Wattley during an attempt to steal drugs and money on the front porch of his home in Temple. His testimony contradicted the guilty plea, McWilliams said.
The abrupt end to the hearing and announcement that the state would pursue capital murder charges came near the conclusion of the hearing, which would have decided the level of punishment for Johnson.
Eight family members and friends of Johnson had finished testifying before the court in hopes of persuading 426th District Court Judge Fancy Jezek to not sentence Johnson to life in prison. Most had said a sentence of 10 years seemed appropriate for Johnson, who has had no prior felony charges brought against him since he was a minor.
Family members described Johnson as a good man who had fallen in with a bad crowd.
They mentioned his four children, and said they had already seen a noticeable change in Johnson since his arrest.
"The main punishment (for Johnson) is that he will have to live with this for the rest of his life," Johnson's younger sister, Donna Johnson Jr. testified.
If indicted on capital charges, a conviction could bring a possible death sentence for Johnson.
Family members were visibly emotional by the sudden halt to the hearing and announcement that the state would seek a more severe charge. The family quickly exited the court along with Johnson's defense attorney, Robert "Buck" Harris.
Harris would not comment after the hearing.
Before the hearing ended, Johnson had taken the court through the night of the murder.
He told the court he had been with a female friend who wanted to acquire some ecstasy. An acquaintance of Johnson, Aaron Bo Simmons, suggested they rob Wattley.
Johnson borrowed a handgun from a family member and the three drove to Temple.
Simmons, who is also facing trial for the murder, dropped Johnson off at Wattley's home, Johnson said.
Simmons then picked up Wattley and took him back to his home, where Johnson had unscrewed a light bulb and waited to rob Wattley.
Johnson told the court he pulled the gun on Wattley, and the two began to struggle. The two fell off the front of the porch and the gun went off when he hit the ground, Johnson said. Johnson repeatedly said he never intended to kill Wattley and the gunshot had been an accident.
According to an arrest report, Wattley was shot three times. Police discovered three shell casings on the scene as well as finger prints matching Johnson's.
Wattley died later that night at Scott & White Hospital in Temple.
After the shooting, Johnson said he ran away from the scene. Simmons drove off without him, he said, and Johnson later took a taxi back to Killeen.
The Temple Police Department arrested Johnson six days later in Temple after receiving a tip that a man had been bragging about shooting someone on the same street where Wattley lived.
Contact Philip Jankowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.