LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Holley Nees - email
LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - A Lufkin murder suspect has pleaded guilty to a lesser offense, and accepted a 14-year prison sentence, according to the Angelina County District Attorney's Office.
Joshua Handy, 20, admitted during the plea process that he caused the death of Jerrard Jernigan, 21, by using a gun. He is sentenced to 14 years in state prison for the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The first trial for Handy ended with a hung jury in April.
"I may never know why, but I'm satisfied that we are getting some justice for his death," said Jernigan's grandmother Miller Jernigan.
In court testimony, witnesses said Handy told them he shot Jernigan because he was angry about rumors going around about him sleeping with Jernigan.
District Attorney Clyde Herrington said he felt it was best to accept a lesser plea, instead of taking the chance that Handy would be found not guilty, due to a lack of evidence.
"We had problems with witnesses and other legal issues," Herrington said. "We made the decision to get as substantial of a sentence as we could. In the plea, the judge questioned him and he admitted to killing him by shooting him. He's the right guy and he's going to the penitentiary."
"We don't have DNA, we don't have the confession, we don't have an eye witness, we don't have a murder weapon," explained Herrington. "We have statements that the defendant made mostly to people that he's been in jail with."
Herrington said he spoke with the Jernigan family throughout the process and he said they felt the same way that he did, that they wanted a longer sentence, but they understood the problems the prosecution faced.
"To Josh, that's a lot of time," said Handy's attorney Michael Nguyen. "He's 20 years old and so 14 is a huge amount of time for him. For a prosecutor, the DA's office, or even for the families, 14 is too low. So, it's always a difficult number to get to."
Jernigan's grandmother said it's tough, but she forgives Handy.
"I would tell him to try to straighten his life up while he's young," said Miller Jernigan. "He has a chance to still be a good person and he's blessed because he's going to prison and his family can come to see him. The only place that I have to go is to the cemetery."
Handy will be eligible for parole after serving seven years. He receives credit for the time he has served since Sept. 2009 in the Angelina County Jail.