Woman pleads guilty to killing 17-year-old, sentence shocks victim’s family

Family outraged with prison sentence

NEWTON, NC (WBTV) - Melinda Wittcop says the past nine months have been a nightmare. That’s how long it has been since her 17-year-old daughter Katlyn was killed at a party.

Her friend, 20-year-old Cheyanne Kenniston, put a gun to Katlyn’s face and pulled the trigger. Kenniston told authorities she though the gun was not loaded, but it was. Katlyn was killed.

A grand jury last fall indicted Kenniston on a charge of second-degree murder, but word came down this week that the charge may be reduced. That did not sit well with Melinda Wittcop, who had organized a “Justice for Katlyn” group. A reduced charge could mean very little jail time.

“A life is worth more than months,” Wittcop said.

On Tuesday, Wittcop and a group of people wearing red shirts to honor Katlyn watched as Kenniston pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. In statements to the judge, Wittcop and others pleaded with him to take a close look at the evidence. As Wittcop cried during her statement, Kenniston began to cry too, and mouthed the words “I’m sorry.”

Kenniston had an opportunity to speak as well and read what appeared to be a letter to the victim. As she continued with her statement, the family members of the victim walked out of the courtroom. They said later they were disappointed in Kenniston’s statement and with the lesser charge she was allowed to plead to.

The maximum penalty for involuntary manslaughter is 59 months behind bars, but because of the evidence and prior record, the judge instead handed Kenniston a suspended sentence - 8 months of community service, an order for restitution of about $3,000, and she’s ordered to serve 120 days active time in jail.

With credit for time already served, Kenniston could be free in 48 days.

“That is disgusting,” said one friend of the victim.

Wittcop said she also did not think it was justice, adding, “But what can I do?”

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