Jasper Haggins was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to manslaughter. The sentencing came on the cusp of a jury trial for murder where a conviction would have carried at least 30 years in prison.
Haggins is 73 years old. He admitted killing a friend of his in what witnesses said was an argument over alcohol.
Haggins, of Lancaster, opted for 10 years in prison rather than risk the 30-years-to-life sentence by going to trial with a stand-your-ground defense. The plea deal was offered because of Haggins’ age and health, and the 10-year sentence is appropriate, 6th Circuit Solicitor Randy Newman said.
“At his age that essentially is a life sentence,” Newman said.
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Prosecutors had maintained that Haggins, a felon with a criminal record dating back 40 years, shot Ernest Cunningham in a violent rage.
In Feb. 2011, Cunningham was found sitting in a chair, dead from the gunshots, in Haggins’ apartment in Lancaster. Witnesses told deputies the two men argued earlier over what alcohol was to be bought and the cost, police reports showed.
Haggins was 67 at the time of the crime in 2011. Since then he had been out on bond for almost three years awaiting trial as his lawyers argued that the shooting was a case of “stand your ground” and charges should be dropped. But some judges had ruled that Cunningham’s killing was not a stand-your-ground case, lawyers said.
Of more than 21,000 South Carolina prison inmates, 178 of them are older than 70, S.C. Department of Corrections statistics show. Haggins arrives in prison as one of South Carolina’s oldest inmates, his lawyer said, but the plea gives Haggins a chance to potentially have a life afterward.
“This gives Mr. Haggins a chance to get out of prison,” said Mike Lifsey, the 6th Circuit Public Defender who represented Haggins. “He spent a year and half in jail before he got out on bond. Really this means 8 1/2 years.”