Hill pleads guilty to manslaughter
Murphy – The District Attorney’s Office will not take another crack at trying John Anthony Hill for murder.
Hill accepted a deal Monday, pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and ending his sentence with time served. Hill was tried for first-degree murder in February, leading to a hung jury.
After his hearing Monday – during which he responded to all of Judge Jesse Caldwell’s questions with only “Yes, sir” or “No, sir” – Hill was processed and released from the Cherokee County Detention Center after nearly five years behind bars. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 59 months, which oddly enough is the exact amount Hill served.
The son of the victim in the case was informed by the District Attorney’s Office last week that there would be no second trial against his wishes.
Paul Pfleiderer III of Tampa, Fla., had a statement read Monday in which he minced no words about his desire for justice to be done to the man who “savagely killed” his father, someone he referred to in his statement as a “monster.”
Pfleiderer, who was in attendance for the nearly three-week trial in February, stressed that his father never got to meet his grandchildren in his statement read aloud by Caldwell in court. He said last week he was “extremely disappointed” in the District Attorney’s Office.
“They specifically told me before the trial that this isn’t a manslaughter case, it’s a murder case, and also to say they were going to retry it after the hung jury back in February,” Pfleiderer said. “They completely gave up just to get some sort of win in their eyes, which was an admission of guilt. That’s not a win in my eyes, nor is it to the people of Murphy or Cherokee County.
“You’re letting a murderer walk because they are worried a retrial will result in another hung jury or a not guilty (verdict).”
John Hindsman handled the case for the District Attorney’s Office. District Attorney Ashley Welch also was on hand throughout the February trial.
“We planned on retrying it initially, but as time went on, we sat down and thought about how we would present the case differently to a jury,” Welch said Monday. “There was really only one juror out of 12 who was sure it was murder, so we certainly weighed what was in the best interests of justice in obtaining a conviction.”
Welch said the evidence was not going to get any better or worse with the continued passage of time on the road to a potential second trial, which likely would have taken place almost six years after the incident.
“The ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense was an effective one,” Welch said. “We didn’t agree with it, but it was effective when it came to how the jury perceived it.”
Hill and Paul Pfleiderer Jr. had an encounter of some kind on June 29, 2014, resulting in the latter’s death. When the jury went out to deliberate after the trial, they were left with a lot of unanswered questions from the investigation.
Hill’s attorney, Al Messer, said Monday it was not an intentional killing, despite the state’s summary including that there were a “number of blunt-force traumas to the skull.”
Jury foreman Rapture Barba said there was not enough evidence to find Hill guilty. The Cherokee County detective in charge of the investigation, First Sgt. Jake Chapman, didn’t testify.
“There was a lack of good evidence,” Barba said. “We had a lot of questions, and watched video over and over.”
Pfleiderer agreed that the evidence presented was incomplete in his view.
“The DA’s office has dropped the ball since this murder took place. They could have tested the door for glass fracture analysis, but didn’t,” Pfleiderer said.
“They could have tested the cigarette left on the floor for DNA, but didn’t. They could have tested the stick Hill said my father used to attack him, but didn’t. They could’ve put the lead detective on the stand, but didn’t. Now they have a chance to, but won’t because they don’t want to pursue a second trial.”
The foreman also suggested there was a credibility issue involving Welch, something she did not comment on after the trial.
Jury member Kerry Archer said at the time the group strongly considered all four options put to them – first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and acquittal – in Pfleiderer’s death. The votes when deliberations deadlocked were nine for not guilty, three for manslaughter.
“We believed that the state, and more specifically the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, had not provided us with enough direct evidence to prove premeditated murder,” Archer said. “John had allegedly been drinking for days. Neither physically, or mentally, was he capable of planning a murder. There was, however, sufficient circumstantial evidence that the two of them were planning to get together at Hill’s house that evening.”
Questions the jury had were not answered in the case, such as a lack of fingerprinting on the broken door’s deadbolt or the fire log allegedly used in the break-in, Archer said. The jury at one point asked if Hill was left- or right-handed, but since it was not covered in the trial they were not told the answer.
“The fact that this trial took almost five years to start shows how much this office cares about the victims or their families,” Pfleiderer said. “The people of Cherokee County deserve better from the District Attorney’s Office. I asked Hindsman on multiple occasions over these phone calls if this was his father would he accept this outcome, and his response to me was, ‘I can’t answer that.’
“This office has given up, and it’s clear they are just waving a white flag. Our wishes were to retry the case, and if you lost, you lost, but at least we would know you tried. Clearly our wishes didn’t mean anything to them.”
There are six additional murder cases pending in Cherokee County, along with a seventh in the case of Eric Shane Williams, who was killed in Nantahala in September. No one has even been charged in Williams’ death.
Daniel James Hughes is out on bail awaiting trial in the shooting death of Terry Ownbey in Ranger on March 14, 2015. That trial may begin this year, but the other murders likely will not be heard until at least 2020.
No one in Cherokee County has been convicted in a murder trial since 2006 in the case of Lauren Crowe, who later had one of her convictions overturned and has since been released from prison.