Eric Horn, 24, of Fairgrounds Road in Piketon, pleaded guilty to one count of murder on Monday in Pike County Common Pleas Court, bringing closure to the family of Paul Shope III, a case that started in February of 2006.
Horn was sentenced to 15 years-to-life on the murder charge, and three years for for the weapons specification that accompanied it. The sentences were ordered to be served consecutively, for a total of 18 years-to-life in prison.
Prior to the guilty plea, Horn was facing a multitude of charges, which carried to possibility of a death sentence if convicted. Two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of tampering with evidence and one more count of murder (for the same crime, but filed a different way) were dropped as part of the plea agreement.
On the day of the murder, Feb. 11, 2006, Deputy Brian Reader of the Pike County Sheriff's Office was performing a check of a frequent hang-out area, only to find the body of Shope lying in the roadway with three close-proximity gunshot wounds to the chest. Dr. David Kessler, Pike County Coroner, was called to the scene and pronounced Shope dead upon his arrival. Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk said the investigation had traced Shope's whereabouts on the night in question through cell phone records, and had indicated the victim had been trying to set up a drug buy prior to his death.
The investigation stalled and the murder went unpunished until November of 2007.
"The investigation kind of hit a brick wall," said Junk. "We had to call in the Special Investigations Unit of BCI (Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation) to help out. A lot of the credit for this conviction goes to them."
During the sentencing portion of the proceeding, Horn was allowed to make a statement, and told the Shope family that he was sorry and the shooting was an accident.
During the rebuttal by the family, one member said that three shots do not indicate an accident.
The sentence was ordered to begin immediately.