ERWIN — John Lee Brooks, the Nashville man charged with first-degree murder in the May 2010 shooting death of a West Virginia man at an overlook in Unicoi County, pleaded guilty to lesser charges Thursday in Unicoi County Criminal Court.
Brooks, 66, who was scheduled for a suppression hearing Thursday, entered a plea of guilty to the charge of second-degree murder, which carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 60 years. Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced Brooks to serve 25 years in prison and said Brooks must serve 100 percent of the sentence, less any credits he may be eligible for through the Department of Corrections.
Assistant District Attorney General Fred Lance told Blackwood at the start of Thursday's hearing that Brooks admitted to shooting 23-year-old Matthew Ware in a previous police interview and provided authorities with details that only the police were aware of.
Brooks was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on May 16, 2010, two days after Ware's body was found by hikers near the Metcalf Overlook along Interstate 26 near the North Carolina border.
On the morning of May 16, Brooks arrived at the Unicoi County Sheriff's Department to confess to Ware's murder and turn himself in, officials previously stated.
Former Unicoi County sheriff Kent Harris previously said Brooks, a Vietnam veteran, told officials he shot Ware due to disparaging remarks Ware had made about the military.
Current Unicoi County Sheriff's Department Chief Investigator Ronnie Adkins testified at Brooks' August 2010 preliminary hearing in Unicoi County General Sessions Court. Adkins then testified that Ware's body had been at the overlook for at least 12 hours before being discovered and that, according to the medical examiner's report, Ware's cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and his cause of death was homicide.
Adkins testified that Brooks initially told officials he had offered a ride to the hitchhiking Ware after intervening in an argument Ware was having with a couple of military veterans. Books later admitted to driving to the overlook and shooting Ware over remarks he had allegedly made regarding military veterans, Adkins said previously.
Brooks was able to describe items in Ware's possession prior to his death, including a backpack and sign Ware was using while hitchhiking, Adkins testified. Investigators were unable to locate the backpack, but they did find the sign Brooks had described in Gray after Brooks led them to the location where he threw it out after killing Ware, Adkins said.
Officials also had hotel surveillance video that showed Brooks and Ware had shared a room on the day of the shooting and that showed Brooks later returning to the hotel alone carrying a backpack similar to the one described as belonging to Ware, Adkins said previously. Adkins also said officials learned Brooks had previously purchased the same caliber of firearm as the one used in the shooting from a Georgia flea market.
Brooks was indicted on the charge of first-degree murder in October 2010 and was set to begin trial in December.
District Attorney General Tony Clark told Blackwood that Brooks also had pending charges out of Florida, but that those charges would be dismissed as a result of his guilty plea to the second-degree murder charge.