HICKORY, N.C. (WBTV) - A Hickory man pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the 2016 shooting death of his girlfriend Tuesday.
James Thacker, 35, is accused of killing his then-girlfriend Tammy Cloninger.
Cloninger was shot twice just before 10:40 a.m. at a home she shared with Thacker on 11th Street NE. It happened after the two were arguing in a vehicle outside the home they shared. Tammy jumped out and ran. Thacker took out a .45 caliber handgun and shot her.
Cloninger was rushed to the hospital where she died later that night.
Thacker wet to jail and was eventually charged with murder, following a paperwork error discovered by WBTV.
Thacker was sentenced to spend at least 21 years in prison. With credit for time already served behind bars, he could be free in 18 years.
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Following his plea on Tuesday, Thacker apologized to Cloninger’s family, according to officials.
“I’m sorry for your loss. I made a mistake, and I have to live with it every day of my life. I wish it was me instead of her… I’m sorry for my actions," he said, "I wish I could change back the hands of time but I cannot.”
Thacker’s attorney, Herb Pearce, said an underlying factor in all of this was methamphetamine. Pearce says his client was high on the drug at the time of the shooting and, “If not for the methamphetamine, this never would have happened.”
Pearce says it is not an excuse for the killing but says he has seen the effects of the drug and this is one incident more on the list.
“It’s pitiful, case after case of this Methamphetamine,” he said.
Cloninger’s father made a statement in court as well.
“It’s been a rough three and a half years,” Steve Cloninger said. “We miss her a lot. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her.”