Dadeville resident Edward Rashun Thomas agreed to 40 years in prison for his part in the murder of Alexander City resident LaDarrell Lamar Hart as part of a plea deal. The deal almost didn’t happen.

Thomas, 23, was hesitant, shaking his head about the shooting being intentional, as he stood before Fifth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Ray Martin Friday. Hart’s family stood arm in arm close by wearing buttons with Hart’s photograph.

“It was an accidental shooting,” Thomas said through his attorney James Bailey.

Martin said he could not take a plea for murder if a defendant could not agree with an intentional shooting.

Fifth Judicial Circuit Court District Attorney Jeremy Duerr said the state was ready to go to trial if Thomas would like.

“We will be happy to withdraw the plea,” Duerr said. “He can enter a blind plea where a judge decides the sentence or go to trial.”

Duerr said the State of Alabama was willing to produce evidence and testimony witnesses including a co-defendant at trial putting the gun in Thomas’ hands.

Martin advised Thomas of his right to go to trial.

“You have the absolute right to go to trial,” Martin said. “A murder cannot be accidental and intentional at the same time.”

Murder is a Class A felony. If found guilty of murder, a defendant could be sentenced to between 10 years to life in prison.

Ultimately Thomas took the deal for 40 years in prison for his part in Hart’s death.

“I’m sorry,” Thomas said.

Thomas was scheduled to be the first case tried in the upcoming criminal trial term starting next month.

Duerr was pleased to see the case resolved.

“I was satisfied with the plea because it is definite,” Duerr said. “When going into a jury trial you never know what they will do. If found guilty at trial, he still has appeals available to him. This way he has no appeals. It is final.”

Thomas has been in jail since his arrest in January 2017 just days after Hart’s death. Bobby Lee Ponds Jr., 22, of Dadeville is also charged in the murder. Ponds is currently out of jail on a $100,000 bond and has a youthful offender status under advisement with the courts.

Accounts of the crime were revealed at a preliminary hearing May 9, 2017 as then-Alexander City Police Det. George Long and statements taken from witnesses were read at the hearing which allege Thomas was the triggerman, shooting Hart once in the chest and once in the head. Ponds helped take items from the scene and helped take evidence from the house, according to testimony.

The Outlook reported shortly after the arrest of Ponds and Thomas the two men were seen featured in a rap video entitled “Pistol In My Lap” posted on YouTube. The video was shot two days before the killing and posted the day before Hart was murdered. But after the story circulated, the video was removed from the site and is no longer available.

In a statement to police, Ponds said the gun shown being held by Thomas in that video was the murder weapon. It has been sent to the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences along with the two bullets taken from Hart’s body for ballistics testing. Those results have not been finalized, Long said on the stand in May 2017.

Thomas said in a statement read by Long in court he did shot Hart, but claimed he didn’t intend to. But contrary to Ponds’ statement, he said Hart had groped him and he reacted by shooting the 27-year-old Walmart co-manager.

Long testified two Emerson televisions and a 2010 blue Dodge Charger were taken in the incident.

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.