Sentence reduced for 1997 murder

YORK -- A life sentence for a North Carolina man in prison for murder was reduced Thursday because the court transcript of his 1998 trial was never written.

Benjamin Lee Foster, 35, formerly of North Carolina, pleaded guilty Thursday to killing 21-year-old Bryan Travis Wilson of North Carolina in 1997. Wilson, who was shot multiple times, was found in a wooded area in Lake Wylie.

Foster on Thursday received 30 years for murder, 30 years for armed robbery and five years for possession of a firearm during a violent crime. All will run concurrently with the murder sentence, Judge Edward Miller of Greenville said.

"I hope that this will bring closure to you," Miller told Wilson's family during a hearing in a York courtroom. "All of us one day will stand naked at the pearly gates. There will be justice, too."

Foster's conviction was overturned last year because a trial transcript was never done, York County 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett said. Foster had earlier requested an appeal, but that couldn't happen without the transcript.

"A rule said if the transcript wasn't requested within three years, it was to be destroyed," Brackett said. "There was no way to reconstruct the transcript."

Without a transcript, attorneys were planning to return to court for a new trial. But Foster opted to enter a guilty plea instead.

Foster, the father of a 16-year-old, served 10 years of his life sentence.

"We wished that it would have stayed as it originally did, and he'd never get out," Wilson's mother, Linda Bost, said after court.

On July 4, 1997, Wilson and Jasmine Grier were celebrating July Fourth at Snappers, formerly a bar in Gastonia, N.C. During the early hours of the next morning, the men left the bar with Foster, Deputy Solicitor Willy Thompson said.

Wilson made an ATM transaction around 2:30 a.m., Thompson said after court. The men ended up in a partially developed Lake Wylie subdivision, where Grier previously testified that Foster demanded money.

"Mr. Wilson told him, 'You can have my money, please don't kill me,'" Grier was quoted as saying in court testimony, according to Herald archives. "And Mr. Foster said, 'I gotta kill you, man.'"

Thompson said Grier was sitting in the back of the car and pretended he was passed out so he would not become a victim.

Wilson's body was discovered later that morning. He had been shot four times, including once in the head and chest, Thompson said. Officials also discovered five bullet shells at the scene and that $200 was missing from Wilson's wallet.

During Foster's 1998 murder trial, he told the court he couldn't have killed his former roommate. But on Thursday, Foster's version changed.

"Mr. Foster acknowledges that he made a mistake," said his attorney, Leah Moody. "There are some people who go through being in jail for an extensive time and never admit."

Foster's family was pleased with his admission.

"We're glad Benji stepped up to the plate and told the truth," Joyce Houser said about her brother after court. "We're sorry that Bryan's family is having to go through what they're going through."

Also pleased was Bost, Wilson's mother. "I'm happy that he admitted it," she said. "That's what I wanted him to do. I just feel at peace now."

According to officials at the York County Detention Center, Foster was transported Thursday to a state prison.