Judge passes down life sentence
By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP – Managing Editor
A man convicted of manslaughter in a shooting incident in Atmore was given the maximum sentence of life in prison Thursday by Circuit Judge Joe Brogden.
Citing habitual offender status, Brogden passed down the life term to Ronnie James, 39, of Freemanville. James was convicted of manslaughter by an Escambia County jury in June for the shooting death of Willie Glenn Matthews of Atmore. Matthews was 37-years-old when James shot him at a party in Atmore on June 9, 2001.
The Escambia County District Attorney's Office sought a murder conviction for James, but a jury found him guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter. The lesser charge brought with it the possible sentence of anywhere from 10 years to life.
During a sentence hearing on Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Bert Rice asked Brogden to hand down the maximum sentence of life.
Also speaking at the hearing was Johnnie Matthew, sister to Willie Glenn Matthews. She spoke on behalf of the family and also asked that the judge pass down a strict sentence.
Having been convicted of a previous felony - shooting into a dwelling - James was sentenced as a habitual offender. He had completed serving the prison term after that conviction.
District Attorney Mike Godwin said he felt James' prior record, along with the nature of the shooting, was enough to warrant the life sentence penalty imposed.
The shooting occurred at a party in Atmore. Rice said during the trial that Matthews was "not welcomed" at the party. An argument ensued between James and Matthews. When Matthews started to walk away from the argument, James retrieved a handgun from his vehicle and pursued him.
Matthews crossed the street near the intersection of Martin Luther King and Carver Avenue when James shot him in the backside.
The bullet passed through Matthews' backside and exited his loin area. Matthews was transported to Atmore Community Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
The trial, which took place after several continuances, ended with the jury deliberating for an hour and a half before announcing the verdict.
The manslaughter verdict was not surprising to Rice.