In the weeks leading up to a Houston County 16-year-old’s shooting death last year, he’d been robbed and had arranged to get a gun from a boy living around the corner.
A judge ruled last week that jurors could hear about text messages from Ryan Skeen’s phone during the trial of 14-year-old Kaden Chase Barefoot, the boy charged with murder in Skeen’s death, said Barefoot’s attorney, Gregory Bushway.
Barefoot pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Monday, on the day his trial was set to begin in Houston County Superior Court. He also pleaded guilty to criminal attempt to commit armed robbery, Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig said.
Barefoot, who was 13 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to 30 years, 20 of them in prison, Hartwig said.
Houston County prosecutors had planned to take Barefoot to trial as an adult. He could have faced a life sentence if he’d been convicted by a jury, meaning he would have been required to serve 30 years before a parole board could consider his release.
With the 20-year prison sentence, he could be considered for release much earlier, Bushway said.
Jury selection was set to begin Monday.
Barefoot, a Bonaire eighth-grader, had been buying marijuana from Skeen since August 2015, Bushway said.
The teenagers lived around the corner from each other.
Two weeks before Skeen was shot in the neck Oct. 26, 2015 — in what the defense contends was an accident —Skeen was robbed in a drug deal, Bushway said.
“He was angry that he’d been robbed,” Bushway said. “Ryan wanted a gun” to defend himself.
Text messages show Skeen described his assailant as a “20-year-old African American male,” the defense attorney said.
In messages exchanged with a young woman, he said he “wasn’t going to be robbed again,” Bushway said.
Bushway said she asked, “You mean you’d shoot somebody over 15 or 20 dollars?” and Skeen replied, “If I have to.”
About a week before the shooting, Barefoot and Skeen struck a deal: Barefoot agreed to get Skeen a gun in exchange for $300-worth of marijuana, Bushway said.
On Oct. 26, 2015, Barefoot took the gun to Skeen’s house on Franklin Square, and gave it to Skeen, Bushway said.
Skeen didn’t have the payment and Barefoot wanted his gun back, he said.
At some point, Skeen pointed the gun at Barefoot and Barefoot grabbed his arm and the gun, Bushway said.
“They struggled over the gun and it went off,” he said.
Skeen was found shot in the driveway of his home. He died Oct. 28, 2015, at a local hospital.
Prosecutors have maintained Barefoot shot Skeen while trying to steal marijuana and then rode away on his bicycle.
A plea offer
Following pre-trial hearings in the case last week and talking with Skeen’s family over the weekend, prosecutors decided to extend a plea offer to Barefoot on Monday morning, Hartwig said.
Teenagers as young as Barefoot aren’t charged with murder often.
Hartwig said Barefoot’s age played a role in the decision to give him a plea offer.
Although Georgia law allows teenagers 13 and older to be prosecuted as adults and a grand jury indicted Barefoot, it was unclear how a jury would view a defendant that young being prosecuted as an adult, he said.
“Every jury is different. You don't know how the jury is going to view the case or the defendant. … You don't know how they're going to feel about it,” Hartwig said. “To me, it was a big question mark and an unknown.”
Bushway said Barefoot talked with his mother before accepting prosecutors’ offer.
“He had to weigh his options,” the defense attorney said.
Barefoot wept and apologized to the Skeen family during his plea and sentencing hearing, expressing remorse for taking a gun to the meeting and causing them pain, Bushway said.
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.