Editorial: Justice not served in shooting death case

Justice was not served when prosecutors in Loudon County agreed to five years' probation for a man who shot his girlfriend to death.

John Kenneth Harvey, 26, was originally charged with second-degree murder in the February 2008 death of Savannah Cass McMahan, 21.

Harvey admits he was arguing with McMahan when he picked up a loaded .22 from a nearby table. The two argued often, according to McMahan's father, who said Harvey bullied his daughter, and "she said she was going to leave him several times before the shooting."

The gun was a single-action revolver, and the detective in the case said it had to be cocked before it could be fired. The powder burns he found showed McMahan was shot at close range.

But Harvey claimed the shooting was an accident. He'd actually been planning to shoot himself, he said, and the gun just went off when it was pointed at McMahan.

With the help of his attorney, Don Bosch, he produced a ballistics expert who supported his story.

The closest thing to a witness in the case was Nathan Lane, a roommate who slept through the argument. Harvey woke Lane shortly after the shooting, and Lane made the call for an ambulance.

According to Bill Reedy, assistant district attorney general, Lane also heard the woman make a "dying declaration" of Harvey's innocence,

"She was saying she was sorry, that she knew it was an accident," Reedy said.

But Lane says he never heard any such a thing and never would have testified to anything like that.

"By the time I saw her, she was already going into convulsions," Lane said. Instead, he told detectives that it was Harvey who said McMahan made a dying declaration.

"She didn't say a thing to me," said Lane.

Reedy admits to some confusion over Lane's testimony. But he insists, "Our ballistics expert could not refute their expert."

So he met with McMahan's parents.

"They did not feel particularly good about the boyfriend," he said, "but after we went through the trial process with them they agreed to the proposed sentence."

McMahan's mother remembers prosecutors warning her, "if there was a trial that our daughter's name would be dragged through the mud."

With the parents' acquiescence, the charge was reduced to reckless homicide, and a sentence of five years' supervised probation was recommended and accepted.

"It was a compromise," said Reedy. "We had to get realistic on what we could prove."

It was a bad compromise.

During a heated argument, a man cocks a gun and shoots at close range the girlfriend who is thinking of leaving him. She dies as the boyfriend tells a roommate of a dying declaration she made clearing him of blame.

If prosecutors could not do better than a no-jail-time deal in that case, they should have gone to trial and let 12 citizens decide who had the best ballistics expert.

This plea bargain simply undermines faith in the judicial process.