Plea deal in Beecher Terrace homicide enrages victim's family

Teri Tharpe
Teri Tharpe
Antonio Tharpe (Source: Louisville Metro Corrections)
Antonio Tharpe (Source: Louisville Metro Corrections)
Joe Gaither
Joe Gaither
Michelle Rudovich
Michelle Rudovich

Louisville, KY - By Janelle MacDonald - bio | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) -  Strong words from the mother of a teen after her son's killer strikes a deal with prosecutors and four other men go free.  Antonio Tharpe's mother tore into prosecutors Wednesday for that deal.

Tharpe was shot to death in 2008 just weeks before he was to leave for UK on an academic scholarship.  Witnesses told police it was over a game of dice.

An enraged Teri says despite a plea deal, she's not finished. She says she'll fight for her son, even though she thinks no one else is.

Her emotions boiled over, minutes after she sat devastated in a Louisville courtroom watching Joe Gaither plead guilty to killing her son. The plea was not to the murder he was charged with only to second-degree manslaughter. The sentence was ten years.

As for Gaither's four co-defendants -- Felix Centeno, Edward Cecil, Jr., William Elmore and Emmanuel Belten, Jr. -- all charges were dropped.

"The Commonwealth of Kentucky just sold my baby out," Teri said.

Prosecutors say they had to cut a deal when witnesses stopped cooperating or had trouble remembering what happened the night Antonio was killed.

"Unfortunately in this case, when the primary proof was the witnesses, it became very difficult, if not impossible to prosecute at this point and have a realistic chance at winning at trial," said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Michelle Rudovich.

Teri says she would have taken her chances with a jury.

"I told her, take it to trial, take it," she said. "I'll take my chances with a trial, but she didn't she took the plea so whatever I felt didn't matter no way."

Rudovich says she does listen to victims families, but she has other concerns as well.

"Our job is to look at the community and evaluate the risks," she said. "When I evaluated the risk, based on my experience, while he certainly had a risk that he could be convicted, I think that we had a greater risk that it would be a not guilty."

But Teri questioned the experience of the prosecutors on the case.

"She was not ready to take this case," she said. "She's an amateur. She's never even tried five criminals at one time."

"I would certainly respectfully disagree with the family," Rudovich said.

Teri says she will continue her fight and every parole board hearing for Gaither, any court appearances the other four may have in other cases, she promises she'll be there.

"Every dog's got his day and if his family is sitting standing up here, I'm here to tell you, watch their backs," she said. "I'm not going to let this go. I'm not going to let it go."

Gaither was formally sentenced today to ten years but because he plead guilty to second degree manslaughter, he only has to serve 20-percent of his sentence or two years.

With credit for the time he's already spent behind bars, he'll first be eligible for parole this fall.

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