JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The two teenagers accused of murdering their classmate agreed to plea deals in a pre-trial hearing this morning, as the prosecution said "their actions personified evil."
Connor Pridgen and Charles Southern were both charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of 17-year-old Makia Coney in February.
Pridgen, 16, and Southern, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and sentences of 40 years to life, with minimum mandatory sentences of 25 years.
Prosecutor Mark Caliel said why he was willing to accept a plea deal in a brutal first degree murder case.
"The one great overriding force behind accepting this plea negotiation is the fact that our job as prosecutors is to seek the truth, and the only way we can guarantee that the truth of this horrible act would come out is by accepting these plea dispositions," he said.
He went on to say the plea doesn't let the defendants off much. The maximum sentence they could have faced in a first degree conviction was life in prison, since they were too young for the death penalty, and the second degree conviction reached today still carries the possibility of life in prison.
Their sentences will be handed down October 1.
Caliel said the shooting amounted to a "thrill kill" after they had stolen two .44 magnum handguns.
"Connor Pridgen in his original statement had said they committed this killing because they wanted to know what it felt like to kill somebody," he said. "Charles Southern elaborated a little bit further than that, that they had taken these guns from a classmate's father's closet with the intent to commit robberies to get more money, because they felt that they wanted to have more money to do whatever with, and in preparation for committing these robberies they felt they needed to know how to fire a gun and how it felt like to shoot somebody with a real firearm."
He also said, "There was no motive; there was no reasoning behind it," saying both defendants came from good, loving homes and had "things available to them that many of our children in this community don't have available to them."
In their first statements after being arrested, Caliel said, both of them offered another story.
Coney's body was found in a wooded area off Powers Avenue hours after she was reported missing after school. The three of them had driven there after school.
Caliel said Southern told detectives he was playing around with one of the guns and pointed it at Coney to scare her, and it went off, badly injuring her. Pridgen then indicated he fired a mercy shot.
"We felt from the beginning that the circumstantial evidence with the nature of the injuries and the trajectory of the shots, things of that nature, were inconsistent with an accident," Caliel told the court.
Coney, Pridgen and Southern were all students at University Christian School.
Pridgen and Southern were arrested days later and charged as adults with first degree murder.
First Coast News