A Wichita man who was scheduled to stand trial next week for first-degree murder in the Sept. 4, 2012, shooting death of 8-year-old Kimbra Moore has pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder.
Court records show that Zachary Gaston, 25, entered the plea last week at an unscheduled court hearing and will be sentenced Nov. 21. The prosecution and defense have agreed to recommend a sentence of 21 years and five months in prison.
Under a plea agreement, Gaston pleaded guilty to reckless second-degree murder, aggravated battery, criminal discharge of a firearm and criminal possession of a firearm. He was originally charged with felony first-degree murder.
Wichita police said Kimbra was sleeping in her mobile home in the 3000 block of South Broadway when a bullet pierced an outside wall and struck her in the head, killing her instantly. Two siblings, ages 4 and 6, were sleeping next to her in the same bed but were not hurt.
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A second shot grazed the head of a 46-year-old woman who was watching TV with her husband and daughter in a nearby mobile home. She was treated at a local hospital and released.
When asked why prosecutors would enter into the plea agreement in a case involving the death of an 8-year-old, District Attorney Marc Bennett said in an email, “The plea negotiations in this case were entered into only after consultation with law enforcement, and the family of the victim, and were based upon an assessment of the quality of the available evidence.”
When asked why the plea was entered on an unscheduled hearing, he wrote, “When the negotiations in this case were complete, defense counsel called the matter for plea on the court’s docket, and notice was provided to the victim’s family.”
Police said the shootings stemmed from an early morning dispute outside an apartment complex next to the mobile home park. They said Gaston fired several shots at a car as it was leaving the apartment, then ran after the car into the Oaks Mobile Home Park and fired again.
Testimony at Gaston’s preliminary hearing last November offered little insight into why the shots were fired. One of two key witnesses at that hearing said he was so high on meth on the night of the shooting that he remembered little of the events that led to Kimbra’s death. The other, a parolee, testified that he knew there were warrants out for his arrest that night and was determined to avoid contact with police.
The parolee said that he, Gaston and two other people went to an apartment on South Broadway to look for some stolen property. The parolee said he stepped outside to use his cellphone and decided on a whim to leave in the car that the group had arrived in. As he was driving away, he said, he heard several pops and realized that someone from outside the apartment was firing at the car.
Police said the gun used in the shooting was found in a trash can in the bathroom of the apartment the men were visiting. The occupant of the apartment said he saw Gaston take the gun into the bathroom and leave it there.
Gaston was imprisoned on a drug charge in 2010 and later paroled. His parole expired three months before Kimbra, a third-grader at Enterprise Elementary, was killed.
A co-defendant in the case, Jessica Padilla, was charged with a felony count of interference with a law enforcement officer, but prosecutors dismissed that charge in March.