Man pleads to lesser charge in 2011 slaying after life conviction overturned

Man pleads to lesser charge in 2011 slaying after life conviction overturned

November 21st, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Defendant Nathan Lalone listens as a jury is picked for his trial Tuesday in Judge Rebecca Stern's courtroom. Prosecutor Brian Finlay questioned possible jurors.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

A man whose life sentence was recently overturned pleaded guilty to reduced charges Monday, making him eligible for parole in a 2011 ambush killing near the Apison tennis courts.

The state, lead detective and victim's family weren't happy with Nathan Bedford LaLone's eight-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter, Hamilton County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Brown said.

But prosecutors agreed to the "significantly lower disposition" because of witness credibility issues, Brown said.

Just over six years ago, Christian Sosa and his girlfriend, Meghan Bennett, planned to meet up with friends Tyler Conrad, Blakelen Adams and LaLone to either buy or smoke marijuana, prosecutors said. The couple didn't know LaLone wanted to punish Sosa for stealing a gun from him earlier that year.

Conrad discussed the killing with Adams, LaLone and a third friend, then called Sosa to the tennis courts, prosecutors said. There, LaLone began firing into Sosa's car, killing Sosa and wounding Bennett.

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Afterward, the conspirators were caught on tape together at a nearby Walmart, prosecutors said. Responding officers also found a "weathered" copy of LaLone's driver's license in a pair of pants near the crime scene, records show.

Officers charged LaLone with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. They accused Adams and Conrad of conspiracy to commit murder, court records show, but Adams' charges never made it past a grand jury and Conrad overdosed a year before the trial.

During trial in June 2014, prosecutors had to impeach several nonpolice witnesses including Adams, who couldn't what he told law enforcement and admitted to heavy drug use. Prosecutors had no DNA, gunshot residue evidence or a definitive identification of LaLone as the shooter.

Still, they secured a conviction on both of LaLone's murder counts, partly because of a statement he gave after the killing. After playing LaLone's words, a prosecutor asked jurors to consider whether he "sound[ed] like someone who was told about a shooting or like someone who's reliving it," court records show.

That statement, however, is why LaLone's case returned to Hamilton County Criminal Court in May for a new trial.

During an interview with detectives in 2011, LaLone denied shooting Sosa and said Conrad and Adams framed him because they were best friends.

"Do you really think you're fooling anybody?" a detective asked, according to court records.

After more back and forth, LaLone said he was finished talking. "OK, then, well, I ain't got nothing else to say 'cause I done told you whatever I knew," he said.

Nine minutes later, a second detective spoke to him and during a two-hour conversation, LaLone gave a longer statement. His defense attorneys tried to get those statements suppressed before trial, but then-Criminal Court Judge Rebecca Stern allowed them into evidence, and prosecutors used them to LaLone's detriment, court records show.

Generally speaking, case law says defendants have to "unequivocally and unambiguously" assert their right to remain silent. LaLone said he did that and asked the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals to take a second look. The justices agreed, and said LaLone needed a new trial.

"We conclude that the trial court erred in denying [LaLone's] motion to suppress and that the error was not harmless," Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Timothy Easter wrote.

As part of his plea agreement, LaLone's charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

He received another three years' probation for the assault.

LaLone, who has been in custody since the 2011 slaying, only has to serve 35 percent of his eight-year sentence before he's eligible for parole, records show. He has met that threshold but it's unclear whether he'll be paroled, said his defense attorney, Amanda Dunn.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.