A North Carolina man accused of shooting and killing his uncle earlier this year in Clover apologized to his family in court Tuesday after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
Otavis Lamar Bigger, 25, who lists Gastonia as his residence, waived his rights to a jury trial and was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Judge William H. Seals.
"There's nothing I'm going to do that can bring him back," he said in court just before the sentence. "It wasn't supposed to happen like that. ... Words can't express what I feel, and I just want to say I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart."
Bigger is accused of killing Travis Janar Bigger, 32, of Clover, after they had an argument April 30. Initial reports listed their relationship as cousins, but it was later revealed that Otavis Bigger was Travis Bigger's nephew.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
A witness reported the two had argued before the shooting, and Otavis Bigger drove away. However, his Honda ran off the road and hit a brick well house.
When Travis Bigger approached him, they had another argument, and the witness then heard several gunshots near Bellaire Circle in Clover.
During the argument, Otavis Bigger allegedly shot his uncle four times, two of the bullets striking Travis Bigger in the upper chest and torso.
Travis Bigger was taken to Carolinas Medical Center-Steele Creek in Charlotte, where he died.
Authorities found Otavis Bigger at the America's Best Value Inn in Gastonia a few days later, where he was arrested. Initially he denied any involvement in the death but later admitted it. The gun was never recovered.
Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson said the uncle and his nephew had had another altercation two weeks prior to the shooting death.
After the shooting, Otavis Bigger tested positive for marijuana and alcohol.
Kendra Bigger, Travis Bigger's younger sister, spoke to the court. Travis was her protector, she said, and was a very caring person.
"T.J. was not one to start trouble; when it came his way he had no problem defending himself with his hands," she said. "He did not carry weapons.
"You want mercy," she said toward Otavis Bigger. "You didn't give my brother any."
She said the family wants justice but understands it won't bring Travis Bigger back.
Several people, including Otavis Bigger's grandmother, a close friend and ex-girlfriend, spoke on his behalf.
Mark Sleeper had been a mentor and tutor for Otavis Bigger when he was in elementary school through ninth grade. Sleeper remembered Otavis Bigger as being "bright and energetic" with a big smile on his face. Though he said Otavis Bigger later was involved in multiple fights, he still believes he can be a productive member of society.
"He's no monster," Sleeper said. "He's a troubled kid. His challenge now is to make something of himself ... and be the role model he never had."
B.J. Barrowclough of the York County Public Defender's Office represented Bigger. He said a voluntary manslaughter charge can carry up to 30 years and asked that Bigger be given a sentence on the lower end of that time, citing his remorse for the crime.
Bigger's father died when he was 10 years old, and his mother was unable to take care of him; he grew up with his grandmother. His mother wrote her son a letter expressing that she believes someone had fired a gun after Otavis Bigger allegedly shot his uncle, and that one of those bullets is the one that killed Travis Bigger.
At reading this, Otavis Bigger pounded the table and declared, "Doesn't she know his blood is on my hands?" Barrowclough told the court.
This shows Bigger's emotion and remorse, he said, and he pointed out how Bigger had chosen to plead guilty.
"He wanted to do that to bring healing to the family," Barrowclough said.
Seals handed down the 20-year sentence.