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Judge renders light sentence in shooting

A man who shot a neighbor twice during a shootout gambled by rejecting a plea bargain only for a jury to convict and then a judge issue a lenient sentence.

A jury of 12 convicted Charles G. Stephens, 61, of two felonies, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury and discharging a weapon into an occupied dwelling. The trial against Stephens lasted five and one half days, with the jury deliberating for about three hours.

Once they returned a decision of guilty Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey K. Carpenter, of Union County, handed down two consecutive sentences of 20-33 months, suspended for 36 months, on a condition Stephens serve 60 days in jail, pay fines and court costs of $4,102.03.

Stephens avoids any prison time for shooting Joel David Drye twice in the leg Sept. 29, 2017. Instead, he will spend a couple of months in jail.

Prior to trial, prosecutors offered Stephens no time served and no trial in exchange for guilty pleas to the two felonies, Stephens said.

He rejected the deal because he believed his actions were in self-defense and he did not want to be a convicted felon, Stephens added.

Prosecutors were surprised by Carpenter’s light sentence given the crime’s violence.

“I want to thank the jurors in this matter for their time and focus that was required during the lengthy trial,” District Attorney Lynn Clodfelter said. “Jury service is an important and often inconvenient responsibility of all citizens, and this jury devoted a substantial amount of their time hearing the facts of this case, deliberating on these facts, applying the law, and reaching the correct verdict in this matter.”

Even Stephens’ counsel was surprised by Carpenter’s sentence.

“Yes, it was shocking,” attorney Laura Baker of Cabarrus County said.

Once the jury did not agree Stephens’ claim of self defense, a stiffer penalty was expected, she added.

Stephens, however, remains angry that the judicial system, especially prosecutors, did not recognize his claim of self defense or the totality of the events.

“Lynn Clodfelter was not interested in the truth, just a victory,” Stephens said. “I’ve lost faith in the judicial system.”

Stephens, who holds a conceal-carry permit and carries a handgun, went to Drye’s home at Mountain View Church Road to confront him about his dogs killing Stephens’ cat. The argument escalated until both men began exchanging gunfire.

Stephens said Drye began swatting him with a stick, prompting Stephens to pull his handgun. Drye then went inside his home to retrieve a handgun, Stephens said.

Next the two men began running around the yard shooting at one another, Stephens said.

Since the shooting, Stephens and Drye have met and talked about the incident, both sharing in the responsibility of the shooting, Stephens said.

He said both of them acted “stupidly” and recklessly, Stephens said.

Part of Stephens’ legal defense included numerous character witnesses, including Rick Burris, a former Stanly County sheriff.

A business owner in the Palestine area since 1989, Stephens, a veteran of the U.S. Army, also touted his civic involvement in the county.

Other than a traffic violation, Stephens has no criminal history, records show.

“If you’re going to make an example out of someone, this is not it,” Baker said of Stephens.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.