A Charlotte teenager accused of taking part in a joyriding crime spree that ended in murder pleaded guilty to a series of lesser charges Thursday.
Naquan Curry had been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Glenn Gullette, a former professional boxer on his way to church.
If convicted, Curry would have spent the rest of his life behind bars. Instead, under a plea agreement with the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office, the 16-year-old faces a prison sentence of at least 15 years.
First, he must testify against his friends.
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Prosecutors say Curry, Randy Lloyd and Amari Covington are accused of a rash of crimes that crisscrossed the city on the morning of March 30, 2014. Assistant District Attorney Samantha Pendergrass said the group robbed a couple outside a club before daybreak. They took turns stealing cars. Later, they took $4 off a jogger at gunpoint for gasoline money.
Eventually, on a quest for another car to steal, Lloyd shot and killed Gullette, a father of five, Pendergrass said.
The prosecutor told the courtroom that the wave of teen violence began when Curry and Covington, both 15 at the time, decided they wanted to rob “a rich guy’s house.” Somewhere they got a gun. Toward the end of their spree, the three decided they each should have a stolen car to drive. That led them to Gullette’s driveway. He was 44. Lloyd, the accused gunman, was 16.
On Thursday, the dead man’s wife, Marsha Gullette, and two brothers watched impassively as deputies led Curry into Courtroom 5350. Across the aisle, Patricia Curry, the defendant’s mother, began to weep as the charges against her son were read aloud. She said she looked over at the Gullettes and began to cry some more.
“I’m still living my nightmare,” she told the Observer. “But I’ve told (Marsha Gullette) before that ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through.’ I have a husband, too.”
She also has a son, whom she described as an A and B student and an emerging athletic star at West Charlotte High, with a room at home filled with trophies for football and track.
That was his earlier life.
“That’s what my baby was born to do, not to go to prison,” she said. “I still feel he knows right from wrong. He knows what wrong looks like. He knows what wrong is. I’ll always love him for what he is. But I raised him to know that even though he didn’t pull the trigger, he’s no better than any of them because he was there.”
Patricia Curry said Naquan and his then-13-year-old sister spent the afternoon before the shooting volunteering at the family’s church. That night, her children walked to nearby Grady Cole Center for a concert. They were supposed to call their parents at 9 for a ride home.
Instead, after the concert they made their way uptown, their mother said. There, they met one of Naquan’s friends and eventually caught a bus to North Tryon Street. The night, and her son, had taken a wrong turn, Curry said.
When her children didn’t return her calls or texts, Curry said she called police, who called back the next morning. During one of her earliest meetings with her son in jail, she told him to “cry out” for God’s forgiveness. “When you say your prayers at night, you pray for the other family,” she said.
Under the agreement with prosecutors, the murder charge against Curry will be dropped. He still faces five charges each of robbery with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. Those will be consolidated into three counts – and a sentence of 180-252 months – if the teenager testifies fully and truthfully against Lloyd and Covington.
Naquan Curry stood with his back to his mother during his time in court. During his plea hearing, he answered questions from Superior Court Judge Bob Bell with a clear “yes, sir.” Then he was led away. The Gullettes left soon afterward. They could not be reached for comment.
The formal sentencing won’t take place until the state’s prosecution of Lloyd and Covington ends. Meanwhile, Naquan Curry will turn 17 a week from Sunday. His mother says she will be at his juvenile detention center to celebrate. She won’t be allowed to bring a cake.
Patricia Curry says she’s still stunned by the notion that Naquan spent the first 15 years of his life as a model son and now will spend his next 15 or more locked away in a state prison. She said it doesn’t have to be wasted time.
“I’ve told him, ‘Find a church in there. Find some boy from Charlotte to be your friend,’” she said.
Then she’ll wait.