SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - One of four men charged in connection with the 2013 murder of Rowan County firefighter Marcus Kauffman has pleaded guilty in the case.
Khari McClelland will avoid the death penalty with his plea, that was entered in Rowan County Criminal Superior Court on Monday, and will spend life in prison. Originally, Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook said that McClelland and Jalend Daquan Turner, 20, would be tried as capital cases.
During McClelland's plea hearing, Kauffman's parents and Maryann Kauffman forgave McClelland.
"First of all I wanted him to understand that I forgive him from the bottom of my heart I really do. God has given me, it's amazing. I honestly can say I'm not angry at him and that's all because of God's grace," Maryann Kauffman explained.
She came to Salisbury with her son Landon and her husband David Kauffman (not related to Marcus Kauffman or his family) Landon was not in the court to hear his grandfather explain how much Marcus was looking forward to meet his son and that Landon heard his father's voice in the womb. Maryann Kauffman said Landon looks like his father. She said she's thankful the court process is over. The family didn't want a trial and didn't want McClelland to receive the death penalty.
"But I also just wanted him to get the message despite what seems to him no future right now with life in prison, just with Jesus there's hope and joy and despite circumstances. Even if with what I went through I was able to have joy through it because of Jesus," Kauffman said.
The district attorney told Judge Anna Mills Wagoner that her office was following the wishes of the Kauffman family.
"Both Marcus' family and Maryann expressed to us a desire to have the case resolved with a plea to first degree murder with the defendant receiving life in prison without the possibility of parole. We have taken into account their wishes on how they would like to see this case resolved. They are the ones that have been most affected by this tragedy and are living the day to day reality of no longer having Marcus in their lives. The disposition today is a direct reflection of our office honoring their wishes," Cook released in a statement after the plea.
McClelland also admitted guilt for several other charges. The judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus an additional 17 to 23 years.
McClelland apologized to the Kauffman family. He said he was sorry and that it was a senseless accident that went too far.
Maryann Kauffman says she believes McClelland is sincere.
Two other suspects, Tramel Devon Hart and Michael Dwayne Teasley, were charged with accessory after the fact in the case.
Kauffman was shot in the head during a robbery at his home on Chenault Road, in western Rowan County, on December 2, 2013.
He and his wife, Maryann, were returning home from a Thanksgiving trip when they noticed a suspicious vehicle parked near their home that appeared to be broken-down. Marcus dropped his wife off at a friend's house and returned to offer assistance.
According to police, Kauffman returned to discover that the people at the car appeared to be removing items from his home.
He called 911 to report the incident, but during the conversation told the dispatcher that shots were being fired before the call was lost. Kauffman was found in his car with a severe gunshot wound to the back of his head. The car had crashed into a tree.
He remained on life support for nearly three weeks after the shooting and died December 20 at Carolinas Medical Center.
Maryann Kauffman was pregnant at the time of the incident and a son, Landon, was born two months after his father died.
In a 2015 interview with WBTV, Maryann said that while Marcus never saw his son, you can see a lot of Marcus in Landon. She also said that her husband's death was not in vain.
"I love seeing what God is doing through it, that's a lot of what has carried me is seeing how God is using it and that it's not in vain," Kauffman said.
Maryann Kauffman has since remarried and moved from the area. During that earlier interview, she said through prayer she has grown and learned to forgive, even the four men accused in connection with the killing of her husband.
"When you've actually experienced God's forgiveness in your own life for the things you've done wrong, when it comes down to forgiving other people, how can you hold things against them when you have sinned so much and been forgiven so much, how can I not forgive them?" Kauffman asked. "I don't know their past, they've probably been through hard things themselves, and I know they did very wrong, but so did I, and God forgave me and I can't hold it against them."