Markale Hart

In this file photo, Markale Hart is shown standing while the jury pool enters the courtoom for jury selection at the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika on  Dec. 5, 2017.

Markale Hart pleaded guilty on Friday to manslaughter in the shooting death of Auburn University football player and Opelika native Jakell Mitchell. As a result, Hart is in the process of being transferred to Tallapoosa County.

The Lee County District Attorney’s Office offered Hart a plea agreement of a split 10-year sentence with credit for time served and three years of probation to avoid retrial – which was scheduled for Feb. 26.  The plea  agreement was done for the sake of Mitchell’s family, said District Attorney Brandon Hughes.

The family approached the District Attorney’s Office expressing their thoughts on the anticipated retrial and their difficultly of sitting through it again, Hughes said.

“I’m not really excited about the plea offer; quite frankly, I’m rather frustrated with it,” Hughes said. “He’s getting 10 years. That’s the minimum sentence on a manslaughter charge. He’s getting credit for the time that he served, and he’s effectively walking out the door.”

In addition, the charges that were filed against Hart in Tallapoosa County in early 2017 will be dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Last February, Hart was arrested in Dadeville and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, certain persons forbidden to possess a pistol and fourth-degree receiving stolen property.

However, if the Tallapoosa charges are not successfully dismissed, then Hart will have the ability to “nullify” his manslaughter guilty plea, said Hart’s Attorney Jerry Blevins.

“To tell you the truth, they made an offer that Mr. Hart couldn’t refuse,” Blevins said. “He’ll be going home on probation.”

Hughes explained if Hart commits another offense or is arrested during his three-year probation period, then he will have to finish the remainder of his 10 year sentence. However, if Hart does not get into any trouble by the time his probation period is completed, he can “go on about his life,” Hughes said.

“But at the end of the day, he knows what he did… What I don’t want to get lost in all of this is he was held accountable today for Jakell Mitchell’s death. He stood in court and admitted that it was his reckless conduct, firing his gun that killed Jakell Mitchell, and he was responsible for that,” Hughes said.

Hart’s reaction to the events that took place in court on Friday is, overall, pleased but “somewhat a mixture of feelings,” Blevins said, adding that today’s court date was to address jury charges for the retrial.

“We were certainly looking forward to the retrial. We expected a not-guilty verdict. That will not happen [because of the plea agreement], so he was a little disappointed that he was not cleared in the end but pleased to be going home today,” Blevins said. “We expect that once he gets out, he won’t get into any more trouble, and this should never be an issue again.”

TIMELINE

December, 2014: Mitchell was fatally shot in the parking lot of Tiger Lodge, now known as Samford Square, in Auburn.

October, 2015: Hart was indicted for murder.

November, 2015:  Hart pleaded not guilty.

February, 2017: While out on bond for the murder case, Hart was arrested in Dadeville. He was pulled over at a traffic stop and was arrested for driving under the influence but was also found with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol that was reported stolen from a burglary, according to previous reports, and his bond was revoked as a result.

December, 2017: Hart underwent a jury trial for the murder of Mitchell. Hart claimed he shot Mitchell out of self-defense for himself and his cousin, Tyrone Rowe.

Mitchell is believed to have been in conflict with Rowe leading up to the shooting because Rowe “liked” a photo of Mitchell’s girlfriend on Instagram nearly a year before the incident occurred, according to Rowe’s testimony in the December trial.

But after four days of deliberation, the trial was declared mistrial because the jury was unable to make progress toward a verdict.

January, 2018: A grand jury indicted Hart on two new charges: manslaughter and person forbidden to carry a firearm.

During the same month, Blevins withdrew as Hart’s attorney because an “irreconcilable conflict” arose between the two, which prevented Blevins from continuing his representation for the defendant, according to court records.

Later that month, the conflict between Blevins and Hart was resolved, Blevins said in a previous report, and resumed representation for Hart but on a limited basis – meaning Blevins would represent Hart through the retrial but was not “retained to deal with appellate issues,” Blevins said.

PAST CRIMINAL RECORD

September 2010: Hart was arrested and charged with first-degree burglary and first-degree theft in Tallapoosa County, both felonies, according to previous reports.

Hart later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second-degree burglary and the other charge was dismissed. He served six months of a six-year sentence and the remainder was suspended.

2011: Hart was arrested again in Tallapoosa County but on felony first-degree possession or marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to previous reports.

He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor second-degree possession of marijuana and the drug paraphernalia charge was dismissed.

He received two years of probation, although one year was suspended, reports said.  Hart was also ordered to a court referral program.

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