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Friday, June 25, 2004

Two plead guilty, get sentences - "he felt like he had been disrespected,"

Two plead guilty, get sentences Friday, June 25, 2004

Two plead guilty, get sentences
By Chip Womick
Staff Writer, The Courier-Tribune

ASHEBORO - Two men originally charged with murder in separate cases pleaded guilty to lesser charges in Randolph County Superior Court on Monday.

Feliz Lazo, a 31-year-old illegal alien from Honduras, was sentenced to 220-282 months in prison after entering an Alford plea (pleading guilty without admitting guilt) to second degree murder in the April 2003 death of Jaime Estrado Terrazas and the assault of Alfredo Vasquez Camarero in Randleman. He received 150-189 months on the murder charge, 70-93 months on the assault charge. The sentences will run consecutively.

Lazo sat with his head hung low during the hearing. He will be deported to his home country upon completion of his prison sentence.

Arguing for the toughest possible sentence allowed by the state's structured sentencing guidelines, Assistant District Attorney Andy Gregson told Judge Clarence E. Horton Jr. that in his 15 years as a prosecutor, he had never seen bodies as badly battered as that of Terrazas and Camarero, who still suffers from injuries received when he was beaten.

Marc Anthony Cassad, 20, faced four charges in connection with the December 2000 bludgeoning death of Quincy Lavar McKinney and assaults of other teenagers at a party in Archdale. Cassad pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury. He received a sentence of 60-81 months in the state prison system. He also was given suspended sentences for accessory after the fact of armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and assault with a deadly weapon.

Gregson told Horton that he had never encountered a more cooperative defendant than Cassad, who had testified against a childhood friend in the December 2002 murder trial of Rashawn Dre'an Yarrell. Yarrell received a life sentence in McKinney's killing. Cassad helped investigators find the murder weapon - a rubber mallet ditched after McKinney's death - and accepted responsibility for his role in the tragic events of Sept. 17, 2000, Gregson said.

"I think he did everything he could to make what happened right," Gregson said.

During Lazo's case, interpreters sat on both sides of the courtroom, translating the proceedings into Spanish for both the defendant and the sister of the man who was killed.

Gregson said that the events that led to Terrazas' murder started at a get-together at Lazo's mobile home just off U.S. 311 in Randleman. Several men, including Lazo, Terrazas and Camarero, were at the mobile home drinking when an argument arose.

"We still do not know why," Gregson said.

The disagreement moved across the highway and down the road to a vacant lot behind a convenience store at the intersection of U.S. 311 and U.S. 220 Business. Some witnesses nearby heard a commotion, looked out and saw a car.

"It apparently had hit something," Gregson said. "And then a man got out of the car and used a piece of wood or a board to strike something repeatedly. Then they saw the car speed away."

The eyewitnesses, who were too far away to see exactly what had occurred, called 911. When emergency personnel arrived, they found the body of Terrazas, who was dead, and Camarero "with grievous injuries," Gregson said.

Gregson said that it is still not known whether the car was used in the assault or whether the injuries to the two men resulted solely from beatings with a blunt object. Camarero was airlifted to a hospital in Chapel Hill, where he was a patient for a long time, Gregson said. The man has returned to Mexico, will be blind for the rest of his life and may never walk again, he said.

Lazo admitted to having an altercation because "he felt like he had been disrespected," Gregson said. But he said he only chased the men in his car and threw beer bottles at them. Following an investigation, he was arrested and charged with first degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.

The plea arrangement was made, Gregson said, because it would have cost the state $100,000 to bring Camarero - the only living witness to what really occurred - from Mexico to testify.

Greensboro attorney Ames Chamberlin told Horton that Lazo - who has a low IQ, according to an examination by a bilingual neuropsychologist - was raised in an impoverished environment, growing up in a mud hut and dropping out of school in the fourth grade to help his family. After making a tortuous journey to the United States as an illegal immigrant, Lazo came to Asheboro and had worked for several years at a manufacturing facility. He frequently attended a Methodist church in Asheboro before moving to Randleman. Then he became involved with drugs and alcohol.

A girlfriend and a former co-worker each testified that Lazo was a kind-hearted, hard-working person.

Gregson asked the girlfriend if she had ever been around Lazo when he was drinking. She said she had not.

Chamberlin said the Rev. Anna Morrison told him she had spoken with Lazo several times about his problems with addiction and he had expressed his desire to quit using drugs and alcohol. The last time, when she had urged him to quit before he got into trouble, was the Saturday before Terrazas was killed.

Cassad is the fourth of five young men accused in the beating death of McKinney to be sentenced. Bradley C. Mulkey and Christopher R. Moss entered pleas last year. Mulkey pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years. Moss pleaded guilty to accessory to murder and received a minimum sentence of 73 months. Timothy Gerald Gibbs still faces charges in connection with the murder and assaults.

All five were originally charged with first degree murder, felony assault and felony robbery. They also were charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury for an assault on Melissa Thiele, and assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury on Reannon Wilkes, two young women who rented the house where the party was held. The men were also accused of assault with a deadly weapon for assaulting Michael Robbins, Thiele's guest at the party.

Cassad also was ordered to pay $10,684.50 restitution for medical bills and other expenses incurred by the family of McKinney and by other victims. He also will be required to testify truthfully if there is a trial for Gibbs. Hobbs also recommended that Cassad serve his sentence in a facility where he will be eligible for work release. He has a job with a High Point company, where he has been working since he made bond in 2002.

Gregson said that although Cassad was the first person to strike McKinney, hitting him with his fist and then kicking him once after he was on the ground, he did not think Cassad intended for the 16-year-old to die.

"I haven't been doing this forever," said Cassad's defense attorney Ames Chamberlin, "but I've never encountered someone who from the outset was willing to cooperate, but, not only willing to cooperate, but to cooperate for the right reasons.

"... When he finishes this sentence, the sky is the limit for him and he will do well. I have not doubt about that."

Gregson said Cassad was rewarded for his cooperation with a lenient plea arrangement, an agreement that the murdered man's family approved of.

"But he participated in the events that led to (McKinney's) death," Gregson said. "A man still died. I've still got a family that's absolutely devastated."

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