FORT MILL, SC (WBTV) - A man accused of shooting and killing a 19-year-old cashier at the Peach Stand in January received life without parole after pleading guilty in court Tuesday.
The suspect, 28-year-old Christopher Mendez, went into the business, shot Karson Bailey Whitesell and waited for police to arrive, investigators say. It happened Jan. 23 around 4:30 p.m. at the Peach Stand on SC-160.
WBTV’s newspartner, CN2, was in the courtroom Tuesday as the plea unfolded:
After shooting Whitesell, Mendez said to her while she was lying on the ground, “See what happens when you don’t look at people with kind eyes?"
Mendez says he wanted Whitsell to face him and “it was easy.”
With hesitation on each answer, Mendez continues to agree to plead guilty, CN2 reports, with several “I guess so” answers. The judge continues to confirm that Mednez wanted to move forward.
“Do you understand you could receive life in prison,?” the judge asked Mendez. “Yes,” Mendez replied, CN2 reports.
The solicitor says Mendez shot Whitesell five times. Mendez will no longer face the death penalty given his guilty plea, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Mendez’s father spoke out in court, sill in denial that his son could commit such a crime. “I would like to think that this is a nightmare...I was not a good father because if I was this would not be in his mental health condition," Mendez’s dad said, acknowledging that mental health issues run in his family.
He apologized to the victim’s family for their loss. “My heart is divided,” he said.
Whitesell’s dad said his family will never be the same.
“This little 11-year-old girl no longer has a big sister,” Whitesell’s sister and stepmom said, CN2 reports.
Mendez says he felt nothing after the killing.
In the same stroke, he wishes he hasn’t done what he did, the defense attorney said. He wish he had a better mind at the time.
A previous court order stated that Mendez “may lack the competency to understand the criminal proceedings or to assist with the defense as a result of lack of mental competence.”
Mendez was diagnosed with Bipolar Depression 1 and found competent to stand trial. He was put on suicide watch upon being initially diagnosed, in June 2017.
According to Whitesell’s mother, the shooting was random.
Police say the shooting was not a domestic violence incident and was not an armed robbery attempt. Officers said Whitesell and Mendez did not know each other.
Mendez was charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. Bond was denied on both charges.
Some who know Mendez say he was polite and quiet. They said they never expected him to be capable of murder.
Multiple calls came in to 911 to report the shooting. The callers all seemed confused about what was happening and, rightfully so, scared that the gunman was still there.
"We were just inside the building and heard shots being fired," the first caller tells the operator.
One caller can be heard whispering from inside the store, reporting that someone in the building was firing shots.
“Karson was a beautiful light in this dark world. She had a heart of service and loved God, her family, and friends fiercely,” Whisells parents said of their daughter. “Everyone that knew Karson loved her. She will be missed by her family and all of the community. "