Butler High student charged in killing faces lesser charge

Butler High student charged in killing faces lesser charge

CHARLOTTE, NC (Michael Gordon/The Charlotte Observer) - Jatwan Cuffie, the Butler High School freshman accused of the Oct. 29 hallway shooting of a fellow student, will face a lesser charge of second-degree murder Monday.

Cuffie, 16, was initially charged with first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Butler High sophomore Bobby McKeithen, also 16.

A copy of the docket for today’s Mecklenburg County Grand Jury lists Cuffie’s name and the second-degree murder charge.

A reduction in the charge would mean the teen may qualify for a bond hearing. That potentially could lead to his release from the Mecklenburg County Jail, where he has been held since his arrest.

Cuffie’s next scheduled court appearance is Wednesday.

Grand jury deliberations are private. Refusals to indict, particularly on such a serious charge, are exceedingly rare.

Unlike the jurors in a trial, who must decide guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a grand jury only must decide if there is “probable cause” that a crime occurred.

A list of the indictments, or “true bills,” will be released Monday afternoon.

Asked why a lesser charge was being taken to the grand jury, Mecklenburg County District Attorney Spencer Merriweather said Friday he is not allowed by his professional code of ethics to discuss an ongoing case.

Defense attorney Michael Greene confirmed that the grand jury would consider a second-degree murder charge against his client but declined further comment.

The shooting took place before the Monday morning start of classes at Butler. Video posted online showed a student, believed to be Cuffie, pulling a gun and shooting McKeithen in the side as McKeithen threw punches in the crowded hallway.

During an interview with Matthews police after his arrest, Cuffie said the shooting followed a fight in a Harris Teeter parking lot the Friday night before.

Cuffie told police that McKeithen punched him in the hall and then he pulled out a gun and shot him, according to arrest documents.

Shortly after the shooting, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said it may have been related to bullying. But school officials have since backed off using the term in connection with the incident.

During the Friday night fight, one of the people fighting Cuffie pulled out a knife, he told police.

Cuffie and his friend ran away when the knife came out, he said.

The fight video shows McKeithen at the fight scene but does not show him taking part.

Later in the weekend, a friend of the teen who allegedly had a knife texted Cuffie to ask who he thought had won the fight, Cuffie said, according to arrest documents.

A friend told Cuffie that one of the teenagers who fought him Friday was planning to fight him at school, Cuffie told officers.

Early Monday morning, Cuffie “went to the woods to get his gun for protection” and put it in his pocket, according to the documents.

Matthews police earlier reported that the gun was stolen in August from a car in Gaston County, the Observer reported.

The arrest documents also say Cuffie didn’t think the bullet struck McKeithen, and he was going to shoot again but ran away instead, according to his police interview.

Cuffie ran into a classroom and told his ninth-grade math teacher what was going on, the documents state.

“She asked him where the gun was and he told her (it was) in his book bag,” according to the documents. “And she moved the bag away from him.”