COLUMBUS, Ga (WRBL) — It has been almost two months since a Columbus mother demanded that there be no more trial delays for the five men accused of gunning down her son in a Pizza Hut parking lot.
That the trial begins today.
Tyree Smith, Eric Spencer, Dover Coppins, Tommie Mullins, and Johnathon Swift are charged with killing Branden Denson in April 2018.
Just before the trial was scheduled to begin, Spencer entered a guilty plea Monday morning in front of Superior Court Judge David Emerson.
Spencer pleaded guilty to armed robbery, using a gun to commit a crime, and being a convicted felon with a firearm.
The plea deal called for Spencer to serve 25 years on probation and 10 years to serve in prison. Against the request of the prosecution, Emerson sentenced Spencer to what was agreed upon in the deal.
There have been death threats against Spencer and some of his family members, Acting District Attorney Sheneka Terry told the court. The DA also told the court that Spencer was not the shooter.
Both the prosecutor and defense attorney Susan Henderson tried to keep cameras out of the guilty plea. Emerson ruled that the plea hearing could be videoed.
According to the sentence, Spencer can have no contact with the other co-defendants and he will be banished from Muscogee County unless he gets approval from his probation officer.
Marcia Denson, the victim’s mother, has been fighting for justice since the shooting. She has appeared in court almost 50 times over the last four years. Ten times, she has seen the trial postponed for a number of reasons.
“I used to be a nice, sweet woman, now I am a vicious animal because of what the courts are doing to me,” Denson told the court in January as Feb. 7 trial date was pushed back again because the state’s case was not ready to go.
Terry in late January promised Denson that the case would be ready for trial this week.
“I can’t apologize enough to you for what you have had to deal with,” Terry said in open court on Jan. 25. “But your honor, I want to assure you and assure Mrs. Denson that if this case is set on March 21st, I will be ready to go.”
Branden Denson was shot to death in the Buena Vista Road Pizza Hut parking lot. During Spencer’s guilty plea, Terry said that it was a drug deal in which the defendants intended to pay for marijuana with counterfeit money.