PERRY, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) - The former corrections officer facing a murder conviction for killing his girlfriend plead guilty to lesser charges in court Monday. Russell Holt is charged with voluntary manslaughter for shooting Jessica Wolfe last March.
Wolfe's family is not happy with this decision and believes justice was not served.
"He took everything away from us," Melanie Robinson, Jessica Wolfe's mother, said.
Holt is accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend Jessica Wolfe on March 18, 2012. Her family, friends, and co-workers packed the Houston County courtroom to sit on what was supposed to be the first day of Holt's murder trial.
"It's a shame. We all thought we we're going to the jury and at last minute this was sprung on us," Roger Armstrong, Wolfe's uncle, said.
Lawyers agreed to a plea deal to drop the malice and felony murder charges against Holt. Instead, he pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and faces 20 years in prison.
"I had to make a decision based on the evidence and where I thought the jury would land on the case and I made that decision after weighing all the evidence," Coweta Judicial Circuit District Attorney Pete Skandalakis.
Evidence such as no history of violence in Holt and Wolfe's relationship, plus the fact that alcohol was involved. Skandalakis says he spoke with the family and admits it "was not an easy decision to make, it was not a popular decision." Holt's lawyer believes if the case had gone to trial, the jury would have come back with the same decision.
"We both knew there was a high likelihood that a jury would reach a verdict of voluntary manslaughter," Franklin Hogue, Holt's attorney, said. "I was able to present enough of my defense case to him to persuade him that I had a good case that might come out that way."
Despite those facts, Jessica's family and co-workers in the Houston County District Attorney's office believe Holt got off easy.
"He got scared is my opinion and my opinion only. He knew he could plead for a lesser sentence and get 20 years. He doesn't deserve that. He deserves a life in prison," Robinson said.
"He is not, now nor will he ever be, legally labeled a murderer, something many of us believe in our hearts that he is," Houston County District Attorney George Hartwig said.
Holt is facing 20 years in prison and five years of probation for having a gun while committing a crime. Holt didn't speak during the hearing, but his lawyer read a family statement saying they loved Jessica, they are grieving the loss of a possible future daughter-in-law, and called this incident a tragedy.