A shackled 28-year-old in an orange jail jumpsuit says, “I’m sorry,” for killing his childhood friend “in the spur of the moment.” A father walks away weeping, a brother stoic.
In a 142-second exchange, the senseless tragedy of gun violence is lived out among three men in a stark courthouse hallway.
Ironically, as the facts would show, that’s about how long it took for the killing to happen in the first place.
Friday, Quinton Erby, of Columbus, pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of manslaughter in the Sept. 6, 2014, shooting death of his friend, 24-year-old Joshua Richardson, in an early-morning street shooting in Columbus.
An aggravated assault charge for the wounding of another friend, Tevin Harris, will be retired.
Erby originally was charged with murder in Richardson’s death. But during Friday’s hearing in Clay County Circuit Court, District Attorney Scott Colom told Judge Lee Coleman Erby and Richardson’s family had agreed to a plea to the reduced charge of culpable negligent manslaughter with the maximum 20-year sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Before he was led back to jail, Erby spoke privately with Richardson’s father and brother, Caleb, who’d sat through the proceedings. Outside of the courtroom doors, with deputies looking on as he made his peace, Erby offered his apology, said the shooting wasn’t planned but just happened. He sought forgiveness before shuffling off in shackles and the Richardsons made their way from the building.
During the hearing, Colom said prosecutors and the family were willing to accept the reduced charge because the case was fraught with potential problems.
“The Richardson family has been very patient. In the end, there was a significant risk of acquittal,” Colom said of the almost four-year-old case.
According to prosecutors’ facts, Erby and Tevin Harris had a “minor dispute” earlier on the night of the shooting at an event at the Columbus Fairgrounds. Both left separately.
Later, a woman asked Harris for a ride home and Richardson, Harris and the woman and another person got in a car and left. When they got to the area of Peach and Cherry streets, Erby, Devonta Jones and Kirby Erby, one of Quinton’s brothers, happened to be in the area. Not realizing they were giving someone a ride, Erby thought they’d come to finish the dispute.
As he, his brother and Jones walked toward the car, they heard Harris tell someone to give him his “tool,” a street name for a gun. As Richardson reached for a gun, Erby opened fire, hitting Harris and Richardson, Colom said.
It all happened in a few seconds.
In a statement, Jones said he didn’t see Erby shoot Richardson but did see him shoot Harris. He later recanted his statement. Harris told investigators Jones had a weapon as they approached the car and said Kirby Erby is the person who shot him.
Ballistics tests on a gun found on a dumpster several months later showed the gun was the one that shot both Harris and Richardson and it was tied to Quinton Erby, Colom said.
As it turned out, Harris identified Kirby Erby as the person who shot him because he’d seen his picture in the Columbus Packet the previous week for his arrest in another shooting case.
Given the credibility issues, varying statements, and the fact Erby could have used an “imperfect self defense” argument because there is “no dispute there was a gun in the car,” Colom said he had “extreme concerns about the ability” to get a jury to find Erby guilty.
“To make a long story short, both sides have a lot to lose if it goes to trial,” Coleman said, summing up Colom’s explanation.
Columbus police responded to a shooting call and found the wounded Harris at the intersection. They searched for other victims in the dark area but didn’t find Richardson until his family returned at the first daylight and found him under some bushes.
He was dead.
The Erbys and Jones were charged in the next few days.
Colom told the judge he likely will drop the aggravated assault and murder charges against Jones and Kirby Erby because of the lack of proof and because “Quinton Erby has admitted he did it.”
While he did well in high school and is the father of a daughter born earlier the year of the shooting, Quinton Erby is no stranger to jail or violence.
He and a relative, Antonio Burgin, robbed Hussein Alhajjaji at the A&A Deli on Sept. 25, 2010. Burgin shot Alhajjaji, who returned fire and hit Burgin in the face. Erby and Burgin fled but were stopped in West Point when Erby called 911 because of Burgin’s injuries.
In May 2013, Erby pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of accessory after the fact and was given five years with one year on intensive house arrest and four years on probation. That was revoked in November 2014 following his arrest on the murder charge and he was sentenced to four years. He completed that time and posted a $150,000 bond on the murder charge. But he was arrested again on Sept. 7, 2014, on charges of felon in possession of a weapon after officers found him with a Ruger .380-caliber handgun during a traffic stop at 11th Avenue North and Railroad Street in Columbus.
He’s been in jail since then.
The gun charge will be retired as part of the manslaughter plea, Colom said.
“This has been a long process for all the families involved, a very long process. It’s another one of those cases that just shouldn’t have happened,” Colom said.
In a victim’s impact statement filed last year, Caleb Richardson wrote of what the loss still meant to him three years later.
“I am hurting badly. Words can’t explain how much I miss my brother. My only comfort is knowing that justice will be done,” he wrote of his brother.