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Guilty plea entered in W.Va. murder

February 01, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A Martinsburg man who gunned down a 22-year-old man outside Berkeley Garden Apartments last April gave a brief explanation Tuesday as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Brandon R. Hodges, 18, told Berkeley County Circuit Court Judge Christopher Wilkes that he believed a third person was armed when he shot Kevin Smith on April 7.

"I pulled a gun on him. This other guy was reaching for the gun and I shot several times," he said.

In exchange for his guilty plea, the charge of first-degree murder was dropped.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely also agreed to a 10-year cap on Hodges' prison sentence, which will be determined after he completes a 60-day evaluation by state prison authorities.

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Games-Neely said she consulted with Smith's family before agreeing to the plea bargain.

"They understand this plea. They recommended this plea," she said. "It has their blessing."

Defense attorney Thomas Stanley said in an interview that he will argue that Hodges be sentenced to serve his time a facility for youthful offenders in Greenbrier County. If the judge agrees, Hodges would serve between six months and two years and would be on probation for five years after his release.

During Hodges' evaluation, state authorities will conduct psychological tests and try to determine his family background.

Stanley said learning about his client's past will be difficult.

"As close as we can find out, he has no family history. He's just an abandoned kid," he said.

Stanley told Wilkes he has no information on Hodges' father and has had little luck locating any family members. An uncle from Philadelphia disavowed knowledge of the family, he said.

In an interview, Stanley said Hodges has been in jail for nine months and has not had a single visitor.

Smith's mother, Kathy Smith, drove from her home in Oxon Hill, Md., to attend Tuesday's proceeding.

"I wanted to hear him say it, although he didn't go into much detail," she said in an interview afterward.

Smith said her son, who had gotten involved with drugs, had been released from prison about two months before the shooting. She said he attended schools in Washington, D.C., and Prince George's County, Md., and earned a general equivalency diploma in 1995.

He had completed a brick masonry apprenticeship, Smith said.

Smith said the family accepted the plea bargain after prosecutors convinced them it would be hard to win a first-degree murder conviction. She said she has been told prosecutors would have had to prove Hodges intended to kill her son, which would have been difficult since he may have been aiming for someone else.

"But he was an excellent shot at hitting my son twice in the head," she said.

Smith said her son's death has devastated the family. His twin brother, Calvin, could not bring himself to attend any of the court hearings, she said.

"Even with all the violence in the world today, it is still not normal for a parent to bury a child," she said.

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