LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A popular athlete gunned down on his 21st birthday. Another student charged years later with the crime. It was a murder mystery that captivated this college town for more than a decade.
Shane Ragland was supposed to be headed to a second trial on charges he murdered University of Kentucky football player Trent DiGiuro in 1994.
Instead, after a surprise deal with prosecutors Monday, Ragland pleaded guilty to manslaughter and will be completely free. Later this week, he'll even get to remove the electronic monitoring bracelet he has worn for 14 months.
Although Ragland stood before a judge Monday and acknowledged he
was responsible for DiGiuro's death, Ragland's attorney insisted his client had nothing to do with it and considered it "bittersweet" that he wouldn't have a chance to prove his innocence in court.
"He pleaded guilty," Steve Romines said. "That's what it is. But if you talk to him today, he'll maintain his innocence. Only a fool, though, turns down walking out of court when you're facing life."
Not surprisingly, the outcome left the DiGiuro family unfulfilled. DiGiuro's father, Michael, said in a phone interview that he didn't agree with the plea but understood there was no choice.
"I don't think justice was done," he said. "Justice would be my son is still alive or Shane Ragland is in jail for life. We're not really excited about it, but we acquiesced."
In the plea agreement, Ragland was sentenced to time served - six years, including credit for 14 months of house arrest.
Ragland was accused of targeting DiGiuro in revenge for keeping him out of a fraternity. He was convicted of murder in 2002 and sentenced to 30 years in prison, but he won a new trial after the state Supreme Court agreed that the prosecutor had made an inappropriate comment during trial and used inadmissible evidence concerning a bullet.
Fayette County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said the plea confirms Ragland was responsible for DiGiuro's death - an acknowledgment he says the family had been waiting for years to
"It's over," Larson said. "He's pleaded guilty. He's now a convicted killer."
Larson said he decided to offer a plea after deciding not to call as a witness Ragland's former girlfriend, who told police several years ago he had admitted to the shooting. Larson refused to talk about her whereabouts but said he feared going forward with a trial could put her life at risk.
But Romines insisted the facts just weren't in the prosecutor's favor.
"They were going to lose at trial," he said. "The scientific evidence was clear we couldn't have done it."
Under the terms of the plea deal filed in Fayette County Circuit Court on Monday, Ragland must remain on electronic monitoring until Thursday.
Ragland has been staying at his father's house in Frankfort, Ky. A call there Monday wasn't returned.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)