Crime & Courts

Charlotte teen pleads guilty to voluntary manslaughter in Butler High shooting

The student accused of killing a classmate in a Butler High School hallway last October pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter Thursday.

Jatwan Cuffie, who turned 17 last week, was sentenced to 80 to 108 months in prison, meaning he could serve a maximum of nine years, according to the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office.

Cuffie was arrested after police said he shot 16-year-old Bobby McKeithen early in the morning of Oct. 29, just as students were heading to their first class of the day at Butler.

He was jailed until Jan. 24, when he was released on 24-hour house arrest.

Assistant District Attorney Desmond McCallum said that Cuffie did not claim to be a victim of bullying or harassment prior to the incident, the Observer’s news partner WBTV reported.

Cuffie was trying to hurt but not kill McKeithen, McCallum said.

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McKeithen’s father, who is also named Bobby McKeithen, told reporters he’s thinking about how his son is never coming back, no matter how long Cuffie goes to prison.

“Death is death,” he said Thursday. “So I don’t care what kind of sentence you give him.”

In the days after McKeithen’s death, his family spoke out about Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ responsibility to keep students safe.

In response, CMS introduced several new safety initiatives, including random searches for weapons beginning in late January. No guns were found until the end of June, when a firearms detection dog discovered a loaded gun in a summer school student’s bag at Rocky River High School.

Cuffie’s lawyer, Michael Greene, told the Observer that Cuffie and his family are sorry he’s going to jail, but they understand the seriousness of what he did and its effect on the McKeithen family.

Cuffie was initially charged with first-degree murder, so he’s feeling some relief about the lower level of his plea, Greene said.

Cuffie will be released from prison when he’s in his early to mid-20s, and Greene said he’s determined to take advantage of opportunities in prison to build up his future.

He’s interested in starting his own business someday, Greene said.

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Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.
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