Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Wearry pleads guilty to manslaughter; will serve 5 more years

Wearry pleads guilty to manslaughter; will serve 5 more years
Posted: Dec 26, 2018
Categories: Front Page, Crime
Comments: 0
LIVINGSTON---On Wednesday, the man police identified as the “ringleader” in the brutal murder of an Albany teen more than two decades ago pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison with credit for time served.

On Wednesday, accused murderer Michael Wearry, 40, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the April 1998 murder of Albany High School student Eric Walber. The plea marks the second time Wearry has been convicted in the case. The original plea--a first degree murder conviction--was overturned in 2016 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

From a professional viewpoint, 21st Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux told reporters that Wearry’s guilty plea Wednesday was "in the best interest." The plea also means that Wearry will serve approximately five more years jail before he is eligible for release.

Despite the updated plea and conviction, Perrilloux did not appear pleased with the “win” in this case which he freely admitted would be a tough one for his team.

“This was a difficult case,” the district attorney explained, outlining the many challenges facing prosecutors in re-trying a 20 year case that was difficult from day one. "The crime happened in April of 1998. Keep in mind the arrest was not made until April of 2000, so it was a cold case when the case was delivered to the DA’s office for prosecuting back then.”

Perrilloux said the investigation produced “no physical evidence” that would solidify the case dating all the way back to the crime scene, through the arrest, nor today. As a result, prosecutors relied heavily on witness testimony to secure the initial conviction.

"What’s the old saying in this business? When you put the devil on trial, you have to go to hell to get your witnesses...We went fairly deep into hell to get some of these guys,” Perrilloux said, adding that it had been a long time since those witnesses had testified.

Wednesday’s plea included an admission of guilt by Wearry and “confirmed the other convictions” that were made in this case. According to the DA's Office, the following are among the facts that were reiterated in the case:

"On April 4, 1998, Michael Wearry, Shadrick Reed, Randy Hutchinson, Darryl Hampton, and Sam Scott were in the Haynes Settlement area of Livingston Parish. Around 8:30pm, Eric Walber, who had just delivered a pizza to a nearby residence was passing back through the Haynes Settlement area when he was stopped by Randy Hutchinson and Michael Wearry. Eric was pulled from the vehicle and placed on the hatchback area; the others then entered the vehicle and drove away. After driving a short distance, Michael Wearry and Randy Hutchinson pulled Eric Walber out of the vehicle and after going through his pockets began to beat him. After the beating he was placed back into the vehicle and the group proceeded to The Pot Luck convenience store where they encountered Eric Brown and James “Pop” Skinner in another vehicle. After a short conversation between Michael Wearry and the occupants of the other vehicle, both vehicles travelled to Crisp Road, a remote area off of Old Baton Rouge Highway. All occupants exited the vehicle, James Skinner then realized that he knew the victim, Eric Walber, and that he had probably seen his face.

"Randy Hutchinson and Michael Wearry then removed Eric Walber out of the vehicle and continued to beat him. Eric Brown, having seen the victim, then left the scene while Wearry, Skinner, Scott, Hampton, Hutchinson, and Reed continued to beat Walber for several minutes. James Skinner, having previously determined that Walber would be able to positively identify him, decided that Eric could not be allowed to live. At that point, Skinner got behind the wheel of Eric Walber’s vehicle and instructed Michael Wearry and Randy Hutchinson to hold the victim up while Skinner ran over him with the vehicle. Eric Walber’s body was then moved over to the side of the road where he was left to die.

"Everyone remaining then got back into the vehicle and drove away. Subsequently, they went to Melvin Tillman’s house who later advised authorities that all of these individuals were in the vehicle and that it was covered in blood. Tillman was also asked by Michael Wearry if he wanted to purchase an Albany High School class ring which he had taken from Eric, which Tillman declined.

"Shortly thereafter, Eric Walber’s lifeless body was discovered by authorities and after being removed from the scene, he was later identified by his mother. The investigation continued and subsequently Sam Scott and Shadrick Reed gave statements implicating everyone involved in the murder, including the acts of Michael Wearry which led to this guilty plea."

“I’ve lost my job, my house, and my other children lost their childhood because we’ve been in grief fighting this for 20 years. Eric’s father died because he couldn’t live without Eric,” said Cherie Walber, Eric’s mother during her Victim’s Impact Statement.

“After an honest evaluation of the evidence in this case and the likelihood that we could present this case again successfully to a jury, this was the right decision to make, to take away that risk,” said Perrilloux. Additionally, this is the first time any of the participants has admitted to any involvement in this homicide, which was important for the victim’s mother to hear.

The case was originally tried in 2002 when Wearry was found guilty by a Livingston Parish Jury and sentenced to death. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction in 2016.

When asked if he felt vindicated, Perrilloux said he didn’t know. He said the decision was professional, not personal.

"My personal decision is that he rots in hell,” Perrilloux said, adding that professionally, it was “in the best interest” of a number of parties, including Walber’s mother, Cherie, who has advocated justice for her son for so many years.

"I don’t necessarily believe in closure when it comes to something like this, but I do think (Wearry) gave her some sense of relief, some sense of understanding,” Perrilloux said.