The prosecution team was convinced it had the evidence to convict for first-degree murder, but the jury didn’t agree. And so Anthony Hargett faces 10 years in prison and a voluntary manslaughter conviction instead of life in prison for the death of Walter Godette in 2015.
There was no question as to whether Hargett, 44, of New Bern, killed the 29-year-old Godette in a Havelock hotel parking lot on March 24, 2015, during a brief, bloody gunfight. Not only did surveillance video show him walking up to Godette, who was suffering gunshot wounds police believed were fired by Hargett’s cousin, Tornez Hargett, and shooting him in the base of the skull; Hargett himself stated under oath that he had done the act.
Prosecutors had argued that Hargett, who they portrayed as a drug dealer, had spent a week hunting for Godette, who had robbed him. Catching him at the Havelock Inn on East Main Street in the early morning hours, Hargett walked to an incapacitated Godette, passing Godette’s lost firearm, before pointing his gun and pulling the trigger, prosecutors said.
But his attorney, Paul Castle, argued that Hargett was defending himself and feared that if he did not kill Godette, that Godette would later track him down and kill him.
While killing a person in fear of what they may do in the future does not meet North Carolina’s definition for self-defense, the argument, possibly along with that Godette fired first in the fray and wounded Hargett in the arm, was enough to convince the jury to find him guilty of the lesser charge.
Following closing arguments on Friday, the jury deliberated for four hours before being dismissed for the weekend. The verdict was returned after an hour and a half of deliberation on Monday.
After the verdict, Hargett was sentenced to 10 years in prison, the maximum sentence permitted for the voluntary manslaughter conviction. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder, he could have spent the rest of his life in prison.
“We feel there was sufficient evidence to find him guilty of murder, however the jury felt he was guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and we respect that,” District Attorney Scott Thomas said.
Assistant district attorneys Robert McAfee and Karen Hobbs prosecuted the case.
“My two assistant DAs, along with the Havelock police, did an excellent job in prosecuting the case,” Thomas said.
Castle said that he felt “grateful” for the opportunity to represent Hargett.
“It’s not my place to comment on the outcome (of the trial),” he said, “but I’m grateful for the jury’s service and I’m respectful of their decision.”
Hargett’s cousin, Tornez Hargett, 36, is still awaiting trial.
Contact Bill Hand at firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-635-5677, and follow him @BillHandNBSJ.