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Billy Forte

A Chattanooga man previously convicted of the 2018 shooting death of his son was sentenced to 21 years in prison on Thursday by a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge.

Billy Forte, who was found guilty by a jury of second-degree murder March 18, appeared before Judge Barry Steelman to hear his sentence.

Forte admitted to police and again at trial to shooting his son, Charles Forte, after the two argued. The elder Forte believed his son was embezzling money from the family business, Eaves Formal Wear.

Steelman addressed the defendant's attitude about the shooting during Thursday's hearing.

"It was a violent act, it was a knowing act," Steelman said. "This court's observation, while he said he was sorry, he did not exude remorse. Sometimes, this court has seen that people would want to take it back, but based on what it's seen from Mr. Forte, I don't think he would."

Steelman said Forte calling the police and not fleeing the scene was a mitigating factor for the sentence, as well as his previous military experience and Forte's history within the community.

"The court credits him with a very strong work ethic and knowing what it takes to run a business," Steelman said.

The judge said he believes the circumstances of the case were tragic and also questioned Forte's state of mind when he said he "felt liberated" after shooting his son, while being interrogated by Chattanooga police.

Prosecutor Miriam Johnson asked that Forte, 71, be sentenced to 25 years.

"There was no hesitation," Johnson said. "He came in, pulled the trigger and killed Charles."

Johnson noted that during his testimony, Forte said he "out-drew" Charles in his mind, and mentioned that his son was going to leave the Eaves Formal Wear warehouse either in handcuffs or with a sheet over his head.

Forte's defense attorney, Ben McGowan, asked for a lighter sentence, while two of the victim's relatives took different approaches toward the defendant.

McGowan asked the court to consider Billy Forte's social ties and hand down the minimum sentence of 15 years. Ali Forte, Charles Forte's mother, said she forgives the defendant.

"Mercy and grace is what God extends to us all," Ali Forte said as she addressed the court. "To Mr. Forte, I extend mercy."

Charquette Nelson, Charles' daughter, said she didn't like hearing Billy Forte trying to characterize her father as a bully during testimony.

"My father was a smart man, he was a ray of sunshine," she said. "Billy has threatened to kill several members of our family. We ask that you sentence Billy to the maximum sentence allowed."

During the trial, Forte testified he thought his son was reaching for a gun when he confronted him, and that's why he shot him. He also claimed that his son's behavior changed after being in prison, claiming Charles had become abusive towards him after serving time on federal drug charges.

Forte shot his son in the head with a .410 shotgun at the Eaves Formal Wear warehouse at 910 Creekside Road off Amnicola Highway.

"To my family and the family of Charles, I'm very very sorry that this incident happened," Forte said. "Justice will take its course, I'm sure, I'm very sorry for what took place."

Forte is to serve his sentence in the Tennessee Department of Corrections.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.

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