BY ELIZABETH DEPOMPEI
News and Tribune
NEW ALBANY, IN (News and Tribune) - One of two men charged in the shooting death of a 24-year-old Lanesville man has pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Keontez Malone, 23, was charged with murder soon after New Albany police found 24-year-old Charles E. Fischbach IV with a gunshot wound lying in the parking lot of a Waffle House on Spring Street on Dec. 12, 2015. Fischbach was later pronounced dead at University of Louisville hospital.
Floyd County Prosecutor Keith Henderson previously said that investigators believe the shooting was a result of a marijuana deal set up to be a "rip off," with Malone and 23-year-old Marcus Threatt planning to steal the drugs from Fischbach. Threatt was also charge with murder, but Malone was identified as the shooter.
On Wednesday, Malone pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in Floyd County Superior Court No. 3. Per the agreement, Malone can be sentenced to a minimum of 20 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. The sentencing range for the original and more severe murder charge was 45 to 65 years.
Henderson said he took into account the whole picture of what investigators believed happened, and looked at what he could likely prove and not prove in court. He also took into account Malone's age and lack of criminal record when negotiating the plea deal.
"I believe that it's reasonable. The plea is reasonable based upon the entire facts and circumstances of what we have here," Henderson said Thursday.
Voluntary manslaughter, which is a level 2 felony, typically has a minimum sentencing of 10 years, but Henderson required that the minimum in Malone's case be 20 years. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27.
Malone's attorney, Jennifer Culotta, said she'll argue for the lightest sentence possible. Culotta said she believes Malone was "overcharged" to begin with, describing the incident as a "drug deal gone bad." Culotta added that, at one point during the incident, there was a struggle and Fischbach threatened to harm Threatt.
"And my client was there and kind of freaked out and shot his gun," she said.
Culotta said Malone was emotional in court on Wednesday. It wasn't the plea deal that had him upset, she said — it was about the victim's family. Culotta said Malone wants Fischbach's family to know that he's sorry.
"He really wanted to do the right thing," Culotta said of Malone's guilty plea.
Threatt, who was also charged in Fischbach's murder, is set for trial later this month. Henderson said a plea deal in that case is still a possibility.
"The defense attorney has been communicated with and so that's still a possibility," he said. "And now that Malone has pled [guilty], that very well could happen.