A second gunman charged in the 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide accepted a plea deal Friday that will send him to prison for 15 years.
Prosecutors have long said Skyler Allen helped his friend Derek Morse shoot and kill three men outside of a trailer home on Kellys Ferry Road on April 9, 2014. They argued Morse was angry one of the victims, Jon Morris, tried to ambush him a few nights earlier over money. Jurors convicted Morse, 23, of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life without parole after a trial in September.
But prosecutors agreed to a reduced sentence for Allen — scheduled to stand trial in April for three counts of first-degree murder charges — because they had a weaker case against him than they did against Morse.
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"Securing a conviction against Mr. Allen would have been much more difficult than it was with Derek Morse," Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston, said Monday. "A trial could have reasonably resulted in an acquittal. We discussed it [with family members] and they indicated they understood the enormous risk of trial and were comfortable with a plea to ensure Mr. Allen serves as much time as possible with the proof we had in his case."
According to trial testimony, a third man, Jacob Allison, drove Morse and Allen to the crime scene, and both men popped out of the car and opened fire on Caleb Boozer, Matthew Callan, John Lang and Morris. State witnesses said Morse chased the men down, shooting and killing them as they tried to escape into the woods or under the trailer home.
Witnesses gave different versions of Allen's involvement. Too many flip-flopping witnesses could have presented prosecutors with extra hassles at trial.
Callan, the only survivor who was 16 at the time, said Morse fired a .22-caliber rifle until he ran out of ammunition. Then Allen took over and shot one of the victims five times in the chest, Callan said. Dan Ripper, Morse's defense attorney, said jurors couldn't trust that account because Callan closed his eyes for some of the attack and was "playing dead."
Another witness, Michael Shavers, said Allen first started firing his weapon — until Morse took it. Shavers said Morse shot one victim in the head, grabbed Allen's .380-caliber weapon from him and went and killed the other two men.
Shavers, who is Allison's half brother, said Morse recounted the shooting to him in Hamilton County Jail after his own arrest in February 2015 on a charge of shooting at his ex-g irlfriend in a Waffle House parking lot. During trial, Ripper said Shavers was a lying snitch who helped hide the murder weapons and only agreed to assist authorities when he picked up his own pending criminal case.
As part of the plea agreement, Allen pleaded guilty to three counts of facilitation of first-degree murder, a lesser charge. That means Allen didn't implicate himself in the killings but pleaded to providing significant assistance in them.
If convicted at trial, Allen also could have faced a life sentence. His next appearance is a check-up on March 16 before he's transferred to a state prison outside of Hamilton County.
Allison, the state's alleged getaway driver, still faces three counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. His next court date is April 17.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.