SHELBY, N.C. (WBTV) - The man arrested for killing Shelby Police Officer Tim Brackeen in 2016 pleaded guilty to the murder in court on Tuesday.
Irving Fenner, Jr. was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting three years ago in Shelby. Fenner shot Officer Brackeen in the torso when the officer tried to serve warrants on him in September, 2016. Brackeen died a few days later.
Fenner was found two days later in Rhode Island. The state was seeking the death penalty in the case. His guilty plea Tuesday avoided that penalty.
Jury selection was moved to Catawba County in September because of pre-trial publicity in the case. Once a jury was selected, the trial itself was supposed to be moved back to Shelby at the Cleveland County Courthouse.
The defense, which originally claimed Fenner was intellectually disabled, asked for a trial delay from the judge so an expert could look at the defense and state reports on Fenner’s mental health. The judge denied the request but indicated he thought there would be time for the expert to check the reports before the trial began.
Though the case was expected proceed slowly, Cleveland County Sheriff’s Major Durwin Boscoe said that was all right with him.
“All the i’s should be dotted and the t’s crossed so we will get the proper justice for the family,” Boscoe said.
Prosecutors explained the decision to offer Fenner a plea deal during Tuesday’s sentencing.
“We made that choice to ensure that this man would never, ever walk out the door of a prison again,” said one of the emotional prosecutors.
The attorney then apologized to some of Brackeen’s loved ones in the courtroom because capital punishment wasn’t being sought.
“I’m sorry that we couldn’t do better, but we have made the best decision that we could,” said the prosecutor.
Brackeen’s brother, Stephen Brackeen, gave an impact statement before Fenner was officially sentenced. He reminded Fenner of the life he had taken and the lives he had impacted.
“I find no satisfaction or solace in the punishment that is imposed upon you. This life sentence without parole will never repay the debt that you owe,” said Stephen Brackeen.
The fallen officer’s father also took a turn addressing Fenner.
“I just wanted to say my son was and is a hero and he will never be forgotten,” said James Brackeen.
Dozens of Shelby police officers were also in the courtroom Tuesday. Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford spoke about the process of dealing with Brackeen’s death and consoling those who were close to Brackeen.
“I truly did not know what it would feel like to kneel down in front of a widow with a folded flag and the only words I had for her were ‘on behalf of a grateful city’,” explained Ledford.
Prior to Fenner’s sentencing, his defense attorney spoke about the suspect and the challenges he’d faced in life. She said Fenner suffers from intellectual disability, but she said he knows it is no excuse for murder.
“He will serve his punishment, but Irving also has the love of Christ. Irving will be forgiven. He has sought forgiveness. He has expressed great remorse. He has asked for forgiveness from us. He has asked for forgiveness from whom it matters and that is Christ,” said the defense attorney.
Following the sentencing, Irving was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs. Members of the Brackeen family and Shelby Police Department embraced one another.
In September, Shelby Police Chief Jeff Ledford spoke to WBTV in a one-on-one interview about the situation.
Ledford keeps a road sign bearing the slain officer’s name in his office. It’s a symbol of honor, but a reminder that he lost one of his own.
“As the leader of the organization, everything here is my responsibility and I know that and I accept that. I know every member of our team here that when they go out to go to work, they go out to provide a service whether it’s on the street or in a dispatch center or wherever it may be. I know I’m responsible and that’s just something that I kind of process as we go along,” said Ledford.
The chief described the loss of Brackeen as a ‘hole’ in his department that will never be closed.