published Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

Mother of 2009 gunfight victim calls concurrent sentences unfair

Jeremy Trueitt walks into Judge Rebecca Stern’s courtroom Monday. Trueitt was sentenced to six years for a guilty plea on a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Jeremy Trueitt walks into Judge Rebecca Stern’s courtroom Monday. Trueitt was sentenced to six years for a guilty plea on a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
  • photo
    Dora Cantrell talks about the killing of her son, Robert Cantrell, while testifying in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom Monday. Jeremy Trueitt was sentenced to six years for a guilty plea on voluntary manslaughter of Robert Cantrell.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The mother of a man killed in a 2009 gunfight pleaded in tears Monday for people to know her son didn't deserve his end and that his killer should face a harsh sentence.

"My son was not a drug dealer," Donna Cantrell testified in Hamilton County Criminal Court. "The only thing my son's ever done wrong is cross paths with him."

Seated with his attorney, defendant Jeremy Trueitt showed no visible response.

Trueitt pleaded guilty in June to a voluntary manslaughter charge in the shooting death of Robert Cantrell. On Monday, Judge Rebecca Stern sentenced him to six years in prison, the maximum time allowed under Tennessee law for the charge.

But Donna Cantrell said after the hearing that the judge should have sentenced Trueitt to serve the time consecutively to his federal sentence of nearly 10 years for a felony weapons possession charge in the same crime.

Assistant District Attorney Brian Finlay also argued that Stern should sentence Trueitt to serve his time on the manslaughter charge consecutively to his federal sentence. That would mean that, after serving at least 85 percent, or nearly eight years of his federal weapons charge, Trueitt would then begin his manslaughter sentence of six years in state prison.

But Stern said that since both charges arose from the same incident, she set the sentences to run concurrently, meaning that Trueitt will serve each sentence at the same time. That means he will serve no more prison time than what already had been ordered in federal court.

Court records show that Trueitt was shot three times in a gunfight with Robert Cantrell. He told police that he and the victim went to 2629 Hopi Trail in February 2009 to buy drugs.

The two got into an altercation and exchanged gunfire. Robert Cantrell was killed, and Trueitt was struck in the right side and left ear. He claims the shooting was in self-defense.

Trueitt's attorney, Rich Heinsman, argued for a lesser sentence, citing his client's work history and that many of his arrests occurred when he was a minor.

But Stern wasn't influenced to reduce the sentence. She noted that then-21-year-old Trueitt had been arrested 27 times before this incident.

"This is disturbing to see this," she said. "I believe we need an effective deterrent in this community for that kind of behavior."

After the hearing, Donna Cantrell said she feared for her and her family's safety and that members of the Yorktown Posse, a gang she believes Trueitt is a member in, had fired gunshots at her two living sons and her home.

Contact staff writer Todd South at or 423-757-6347.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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