Markeith Council, who worked as a detention officer at the Wake County jail for four years, will spend at least three months as an inmate there after a jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the beating death of inmate Shon Demetrius McClain last summer.
Before sentencing, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Gessner noted that there were mitigating factors that persuaded him to give Council less than the 21-month maximum sentence. Gessner found that Council, 27, was a person of “good standing in the community, who had a positive employment history, with the support of both his family and members of the community.”
Gessner also took into consideration that Council’s wife, Antoinette, is five months pregnant, though he did not think it prudent to allow the former detention officer to spend time with his daughter, who is about to celebrate her fifth birthday.
“Mr. McClain will never spend another birthday with his daughter,” Gessner said.
Council had been charged with voluntary manslaughter, but after a full day of deliberation the jury chose to convict him of a lesser crime.
Both crimes are felonies. Under North Carolina law, a person is guilty of voluntary manslaughter if he kills another human being “without malice, premeditation or deliberation.” Involuntary manslaughter, which brings a shorter prison sentence, means someone kills another human being “unintentionally and without malice.”
Gessner sentenced Council to 12 to 24 months in prison, but then suspended the sentence and ordered the former jailer to spend 90 days in the jail where he worked and three years probation.
The judge also ordered Council to submit a DNA sample to jail officials, pay court costs, a $1,000 fine and abide by all conditions of his supervised probation.
“No matter what I do in this case, there will be people who are not going to like it,” Gessner said before pronouncing the sentence.
Prior to sentencing, Gessner allowed Council’s wife and McClain’s sister to speak.
“He’s an outstanding father,” Antoinette Council said. “I am very sorry, very sorry for the [McClain] family’s loss.”
The victim’s family
Shon McClain’s sister, Marlene Gilbert, said her brother, who was 40, was not perfect; he had been booked into the jail a week before his death on an open container violation and for failing to appear in court for a possession of drug paraphernalia charge, both misdemeanors. But Gilbert said that if every detention officer reacted to inmates’ bad behavior in the way that Council hurt her brother, “then we would be in court every day.”
“None of us are perfect,” she said. “The problem I have with Mr. Council is he has not at one time showed remorse. My brother has kids. He was a loving father.
“I made a decision to take him off life support the day after Father’s Day. I told my aunt, ‘Just wait. I am not going to let him die on Father’s Day.’ ”
At the end of the day’s hearing, Gilbert again said what bothered her the most was Council’s lack of remorse.
“He never said ‘I didn’t mean to do it,’ ” she said. “He even tried to put Shon’s death on the doctors when he said in court ‘Maybe he didn’t get the care he needed.’ ”
Video key to verdict
The jury began its deliberations Thursday by asking to again view a surveillance videotape of the altercation that was at the center of the case.
The video, which was shown several times during the three-day trial, shows a brief fight between Council and McClain in a day room at the Wake County jail that ends with Council twice slamming McClain to the concrete floor. McClain died 13 days later, on June 17, and Council was charged with voluntary manslaughter on Aug. 6.
Jurors began deliberating late Wednesday after closing arguments from Council’s attorney Craig James and from Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby.
In addition to the video, the jury asked to review McClain’s autopsy report as well as the definitions of “voluntary manslaughter,” “involuntary manslaughter” and “not guilty.” Judge Gessner told jurors they could use only the written definitions provided by the court.
James argued on Wednesday that Council, 27, felt threatened by McClain and responded using techniques that are taught to all detention officers. Willoughby countered that Council let his anger get the best of him and used excessive force to subdue McClain, who appears in the video to go limp before Council slammed him to the floor a second time. At 6 feet, 290 pounds, Council had a size advantage over the 5-foot 7-inch, 119-pound McClain.
James did not dispute the video. But at day’s end Tuesday, he asked the judge to dismiss the voluntary manslaughter charge because the statute indicates a person guilty of the crime must have committed the act with an intent to kill with malice. Willoughby disagreed, saying to prove voluntary manslaughter, prosecutors did not have to prove that Council intended to kill McClain, only that Council’s actions resulted in injuries that caused McClain’s death.
Gilbert, McClain’s sister, said she anticipated a verdict of involuntary manslaughter and that Council would not spend much time in jail. But she said the public acknowledgment of Council’s guilt gave a sense of closure.
“I’m at peace,” she said. “He’s a felon. Just knowing he’s guilty is fine.”