A plea deal may be in the works for the man prosecutors say pulled the trigger in the fatal shooting of the manager of a Family Dollar store in March.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled to begin Monday for Biu Benjamin Olive, 18, and 19-year-old Sarah Ataata. But both ended up waiving their hearings.
Defense attorney Michael Sikora said for the record during Monday's brief hearing in 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease's courtroom that a plea deal was being considered in which his client, Olive, would plead guilty to aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated robbery and obstruction of justice.
But whereas Olive was looking potentially at life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted, in exchange for the guilty pleas he would receive a sentence of life with the possibility of parole.
Because Olive was just a few days short of his 18th birthday when the crime occurred, prosecutors could not seek the death penalty.
Olive is charged with gunning down Wally Knapton, 49, inside his store, 1145 S. Glendale Drive (1350 West) during a robbery, even though Knapton complied with the robbers' demands and did not try to resist. Ataata was the getaway driver. A 13-year-old boy also was arrested and charged in connection with the robbery. His case is being handled in juvenile court.
Ataata also waived her preliminary hearing Monday, but her attorney did not say whether she had been offered a plea deal.
The murder sparked outrage in the Glendale community, where residents remembered Knapton as a generous manager who did a lot to give back to the community. Police say the defendants in the case only netted $180 in the robbery after shooting Knapton.
Trease's courtroom was full Monday, with friends and family members of the defendants and Knapton on opposite sides of the courtroom. Matellena Winn, Knapton's ex-wife who was still living with Knapton at the time of his murder, wiped away tears as she walked out of the courtroom.
"I want life without parole. But if the minimum he is going to be 45 years and he can't get out before, I can live with that," Winn said.
Winn said she believed that both defendants would end up accepting a plea deal. She said it was hard to sit in court and watch the people who allegedly killed Knapton.
"I don't understand why these people don't see life's more important," she said.
Winn remembered Knapton as a caring man who worked hard at the store and did all he could to take care of his family. She said she had watched the store surveillance tape of the shooting numerous times and noted that she felt comforted that Knapton was shot while pushing another employee out of the line of fire.
Knapton's parents were also in attendance Monday but declined comment as they left.The next court appearance for both defendants was scheduled for Aug. 1 in Judge Judith Atherton's courtroom.