CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - A man has been sentenced to at least 50 years in prison for a 2016 double homicide at a McDonalds in Catawba County.
Eric Terril Yount, 27, was sentenced to serve 50-62 years in prison for the March 2, 2016, shooting deaths of 22-year-old Richelle Scott Lail and 28-year-old Cody William Watts.
Yount pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder on Wednesday, Feb. 10.
“I wish I had some words of wisdom to impart to you all to make it better. There is nothing this court can do to bring these beautiful children back,” Judge Nathaniel J. Poovey said, adding that his hope was that all families involved could find closure and peace without living life with bitterness and anger. “There will always be a hole there, a scar on the heart that will never fully heal. It’s a terrible case. Nothing I can do or say will make it better.”
Yount will serve his prison term in the custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Corrections.
Assistant District Attorney Lance Sigmon noted the severity of Yount’s actions that claimed two lives as he addressed sentencing in the double murder.
“He showed a reckless disregard for the lives of others,” Sigmon said. “We need to protect the public from someone like him. This court can send a message that we value human life, and violence is not the answer.”
The fatal shootings occurred in the parking lot of McDonald’s on U.S. 321 in Hickory approximately a month after the defendant and Lail ended a domestic relationship.
According to court documents, investigative findings showed that Yount texted a friend the day before the fatal shootings and told him he would not be at work the next day and would be going to jail.
Defense Attorney Vicki Jayne argued that her client was not of sound mind when the shootings occurred, citing the loss of his job, opioid use and the loss of his girlfriend as reasons he “snapped.”
“It was a split-second decision, a horrible decision that Eric made,” Jayne said. “He realizes the loss and despair he has caused three families, including his own. He absolutely accepts responsibility. What he wants you (the Lail and Watts families) to know is how sorry he is. He can’t make up for the pain he has caused everyone.”
Court documents say the victims were talking to each other in the McDonald’s parking lot when Yount pulled into the lot and blocked Watts’ truck. An argument ensued between Yount and Lail. During that verbal exchange, the defendant pulled a handgun from his vehicle and began firing at Lail, who had been standing at the window of Watts’ truck as he sat behind the wheel. Lail was struck in the head and died at the scene.
According to court documents, Yount then turned the gun on Watts, firing several shots that struck him in the neck and chest while he was still in his vehicle. Watts’ son, 10 years old at the time, was seated in the truck beside his father but was not struck by the gunfire.
Yount left the scene, abandoned his vehicle in a school parking lot between two busses, went to a car lot and stole a truck before turning himself in at Lenoir Police Department later that night, according to court documents.
Investigation also showed that the defendant called his father in a frantic state and told him that he had just killed Lail and Watts.
Investigators with Hickory Police Department located a 9-millimeter handgun that Yount had taken to a friend’s residence following the shootings, along with six shell casings from that caliber of firearm at the scene of the shootings. Analysis of the handgun also showed the major contributor of DNA on it was the defendant, who also had gun residue on the T-shirt he was wearing at the time of the shootings.
The autopsy reports showed that Lail died from a gunshot wound to the head. Watts succumbed to injuries sustained from multiple gunshot wounds.
Members of both families addressed the court.
“She was the light of my life, my pride and joy, and this young man took her from me,” Lail’s father Richard said. “We’ll never have closure. There is no justice for what he did; it just can’t be made right. It is not right for him to have a chance to walk the streets as a free man again.”
Stephen Watts also spoke about his younger brother, saying, “He would help anybody and everybody. This was a young man who didn’t deserve to lose his life over a girlfriend. It was senseless. He was full of life, and now he has none. He is missed tremendously. We need this behind us. We need to move on.”
The case was investigated by Hickory Police Department. Lance Sigmon and Jamie Adams handled prosecution for the District Attorney’s Office.