LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Moments before a jury was about to hear the case against him, a Lufkin man pleaded guilty Wednesday morning to killing his brother and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison.
Before opening arguments began, District Judge Barry Bryan asked prosecutor Layne Thompson the details of the last plea bargain that was on the table before the trial.
Thompson explained that Gary Wayne Hodges, 53, was given the option to plead guilty to second-degree murder, which implies Hodges was not intending to cause death, but intentionally caused serious injury through aggravated assault, or plead guilty to manslaughter. The charge would normally carry a five to 99 year sentence, due to a prior conviction which enhanced the charge. The prosecution would agree to waive the enhancement if he pleaded guilty and let the jury decide the punishment, which would then range from two to 20 years.
Defense attorney Al Charanza originally said his client did not wish to plea.
Bryan asked Hodges if that was truly his decision.
After some discussion, Charanza declared that Hodges agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge. Bryan then allowed Hodges to step outside the courtroom to talk with his lawyer about his decision.
"There's no way I meant to do that. That was my brother," said Hodges.
"I could see from your statement that it was not your intent to get that result," said Bryan.
"It's over," said Hodges as he stepped out of the courtroom to talk with his family and lawyer.
Hodges was arrested in April 2011 after authorities determined he seriously injured his brother, Kevin Hodges, by hitting him with a tire knocker. He died four days later.
In an April 2011 interview, Sheriff Kent Henson said Gary Hodges came home from work and saw his brother coming out of the back part of his Fuller Springs house at Boardwalk Place. Henson said there was a misunderstanding between the brothers over Gary Hodges' wife, Kristie Hodges. Henson said Gary Hodges went into a fit of rage.
When Hodges returned to the courtroom, Bryan read out the conditions of the plea agreement. Hodges pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This charge is a first-degree felony, which is punishable by five to 99 years in prison. The state recommended that Hodges be sentenced to five years in prison. Bryan explained Hodges would have to complete at least 2 1/2 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Hodges has 63 days of jail credit, which will be credited to his prison sentence.
The prosecution insisted that the charge include that a deadly weapon was involved, as well as serious bodily injury. All parties agreed to these conditions.
"I'd like to turn myself in later in the evening or first thing in the morning. I'm not going anywhere," said Hodges.
Bryan agreed to the plea bargain, and sentenced Hodges to five years in prison. Hodges was ordered to be taken into the custody of the Angelina County Sheriff's Office.
"I just wanted to say goodbye to my grand babies," said Hodges in a last statement to Bryan.
The jury was dismissed without ever hearing the case.
Delinda Murphy, the older sister of Gary and Kevin Hodges, was one of several family members who tearfully sat in the courtroom as her brother was sentenced to five years in prison.
"I think this is unfair," said Murphy.
For Gary's niece, losing two uncles is unthinkable.
"I miss him already. I mean I miss Gary. I miss Kevin," said Hodges' niece, Stephanie Riley.
Murphy insists Hodges should have received a lesser sentence or probation.
"Gary did not mean to do this. He loved Kevin. They were close. I mean, they were always together," said Murphy.
Murphy says the family was ready to see the trial through to the end.
"Him pleading today was a shock to all of us. We were not expecting this, and I feel like the jury would have taken the lesser charge," said Murphy.
But, Charanza, says Hodges viewed the circumstances differently.
"He felt it was best to not put his family through the trial and to bring closure," said Charanza.
"We felt like five years was a fair verdict and probably the most we'd ever get from a jury once they heard all the facts," said Thompson.
Both attorneys said Hodges never denied his actions that day.
"Mr. Hodges has to live. And, he has repeatedly told me he, no matter what the sentence is, he's going to live with this the rest of his life," said Charanza.