Last-minute plea agreements Tuesday brought abrupt ends to jury trials for two first-degree murder defendants charged in Sedgwick County District Court. Both agreements were reached as lawyers were in the final stages of jury selection.
In the first case, Malek Brown, 21, pleaded guilty to premeditated first-degree murder for his role in the Dec. 14, 2011, shooting death of 19-year-old Markez Phillips. The plea means Brown will face a mandatory sentence of life without parole for 25 years. Prosecutors dismissed several lesser charges – including kidnapping, aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary – that could have resulted in an even longer sentence.
In the second case, prosecutors agreed to drop a felony murder charge against Kendall Gentry, 23, if he pleads guilty to a less serious robbery charge and testifies truthfully about his knowledge of the July 9 shooting death of Ronald Wilson, 34.
Wichita police said Gentry led officers to Wilson’s body at the Interdale Apartments at 916 N. Broadway after calling 911 from a pay phone to say he had been kidnapped and witnessed a murder. He was later implicated in Wilson’s death, which police said occurred during a robbery.
Another defendant in that case, Matthew McDaniel, 22, is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 28. Charges against a third suspect were dismissed in October, but prosecutors have said they could be refiled if further evidence surfaces in the case.
Gentry’s plea agreement calls for him to plead guilty to aggravated robbery, which would result in a presumptive sentence of six years and five months in prison. Prosecutors said the felony murder charge will be dismissed after he testifies.
Brown was one of five men who were charged in Phillips’ death. Police said Brown and another man forced their way into an Oaklawn home and shot Phillips during a robbery. Police said the men left with three big-screen TVs after finding no money.
Testimony at previous court hearings identified Brown as the person who fired the shot that killed Phillips.
Brown will be sentenced Jan. 25 by District Judge Joseph Bribiesca.