Zachary Harris, one of four people charged in a Hamilton retaliation shooting that killed two people, has admitted guilt to avoid the death penalty.
Harris, 25, of Columbus, pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of aggravated murder, just minutes before his two-week trial was scheduled to being in Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Stephens’ courtroom.
In exchange for the plea, Harris was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Harris is convicted of the drive-by shooting deaths of Orlando Gilbert and Todd Berus in August 2016.
Letters from Berus’ mother and sister were read in court by Assistant Prosecutor Brad Burress. Both women said their family was destroyed by the shooting death of Todd.
Gilbert’s stepfather LeRoy Brown spoke of the devastation Orlando’s death has had on his family, including Orlando’s young daughter.
“His death has crushed my wife’s heart. Our lives will never be the same,” Brown said. But he told Harris that the family prays for him.
Stephens said after imposing the sentence “nobody walks out of this situation a winner … Hope you are able to find some peace and redemption as well.”
The sentencing came three hours after Harris entered his guilty plea so that the victims’ families could be present.
Before entering the plea, Harris said he was dis-satisfied with the attorneys appointed to him and disagreed with motions that had been denied by the judge. Those denied motions were to suppress his confession to Hamilton police, continue the trial, and that he was not mentally fit to be given the death penalty.
“With all due respect, I feel the court is being just a little bit bias against me due to I am not from around here and what have you, your honor,” Harris said. He added there has been “so much delay” for psychological evaluations and his defense was not able to form a “defense.”
Stephens said he understood it was Harris’s right to object to his decisions
“I take no offense at that,” Stephens told Harris. The judge also pointed out every time Harris has been in court, he was asked if he was satisfied with his attorneys and he indicated that he was.
Tim McKenna, one of Harris’ two attorneys, said, “Judge just to clarify, he objects to the rulings. We are prepared to go forward.”
A string of violence in the summer of 2016 began with a shootout at Doubles Bar in the city’s west side that killed one person and wounded seven others. That shooting sparked retaliation violence on the afternoon of Aug. 3, 2016, that left Gilbert and Berus dead.
According to prosecutors, Michael Grevious II, one of the men involved in the Doubles shootout, hired Harris to kill Gilbert for $5,000.
Then on that afternoon in August 2016, a Chevrolet pickup truck driven by Melinda Gibby pulled up next to a black Ford Mustang occupied by Gilbert and Berus. Tony Patete, the front seat passenger of the truck, opened fire with an AK-47 multiple times, killing Gilbert and Berus, according to court documents.
Patete, 23, of Newark, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder. He is scheduled to stand trial on Dec. 4.
Grevious, charged with aggravated murder and felonious assault for the Doubles shootout, will be the last to stand trial on Feb. 26.
Gibby pleaded guilty to aggravated murder with an agreed to sentence of 30 years to life. She will not be formally sentenced until February.