Jamieon Chatman, who opened fire on a Christmas night crowd outside an Olde Towne Slidell bar nearly four years ago, pleaded guilty late last week to two counts of manslaughter in the deaths of Errol "Ro" Scott, 22, and Mark Womack, 23, both of Slidell.
Six other people were injured in the shooting, which took place in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, 2013, as patrons were leaving the Shooters Social Club following a fight that broke out inside.
The plea deal — which prosecutors did not announce — leaves the 26-year-old Chatman with a 40-year prison sentence with the possibility of parole.
He had faced two counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Jamieon Chatman, who is accused of killing two people and wounding six others in a shooting …
Bradley Womack, father of Southeastern Louisiana University student Mark Womack, said Thursday that he and his family are "very disappointed" in the 22nd Judicial District Attorney's Office's decision to allow Chatman to plead to lesser charges.
Womack said he believes life in prison would have been a more appropriate sentence. "We are very disappointed for many reasons. The justice system failed us," he said.
E.J. Walls, a friend of Scott, also said that justice was not served by the plea deal. "It's a sad situation all around; nobody wins. But this criminal's family will get to see him, talk to him, hug him. That's something Mark's and Errol's friends and families won't ever get, and that is why this outcome isn't right."
Chatman's attorney, Ravi Shah, said that prosecutors originally planned to seek the death penalty for his client. The case was to have gone to trial in less than two weeks.
District Attorney Warren Montgomery said Thursday that the decision to seek the death penalty was made under his office's previous administration. "After reviewing the complicated set of facts and circumstances in final preparation for trial, I determined that a plea to 40 years was an appropriate resolution," he said.
Shah said that video surveillance showing another man at the scene with a weapon was a major factor in the decision to allow Chatman to plead to manslaughter. As both sides were preparing for the trial, he said, they realized "a murder conviction was going to be difficult for the state to achieve."
Shah said the fighting inside the bar was between a Slidell group and a Covington group. Chatman is from Covington. A man named Jonathan Johnson, who was perceived as being part of the Slidell group, was seen on video brandishing a weapon immediately before shots rang out, Shah said.
The one charge that was dropped by prosecutors involved an injury to Johnson, Shah said.
"Certainly the state's burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and the 'stand your ground' doctrine played a role in my decision," Montgomery said.
But Bradley Womack said he thinks "stand your ground" is being abused by people who shoot into crowds. "I don't believe that was what it was intended for," he said.
Five remaining charges of attempted first-degree murder were reduced to attempted manslaughter. Chatman was sentenced to 40 years each on the two manslaughter charges and 20 years each for the five attempted manslaughter charges — all to be served concurrently.
"My client is happy with the outcome," Shah said. "He's glad the DA's Office ultimately made a penalty offer more in line with the facts instead of a capital murder trial. Because my client's happy, I'm happy."
One of the six victims who was injured in the shooting, Keri Warner, said she was not aware that Chatman had been given a plea deal. She received a graze to her thigh that affected the way she walked for a long time, she said. "Now, it's just ugly, but I'm glad I'm alive," she said.
Friends of both the slain men have worked to keep their memories alive through annual charity sports tournaments that support youth athletics and athletes. Womack said seven scholarships have been funded so far by his son's friends.
"That's one of the few positive things that has occurred over the last few years," Womack said. "We're so impressed with the young men that have stepped forward to honor Mark and his community."