Grisly shooting case ends in guilty plea

Grants Pass resident Charles Alexander White II on Wednesday pleaded guilty to the March shooting of Timothy James "T.J." Sheeler of Medford. The admission halted White's jury trial in Jackson County Circuit Court after a single day of graphic testimony.

The Measure 11 attempted murder plea will place White behind bars for more than seven years, said Eric Dames, a Jackson County deputy district attorney. "I'm glad we got a dangerous offender off the streets," said Dames, adding Sheeler and his immediate family are satisfied with White's sentence.

White, 29, admitted to shooting Sheeler, 29, at least five times — with three of the shots fired after the victim had hit the ground near the corner of 12th and Grape streets just before 6 p.m. on March 10, he said.

Judge Lorenzo Mejia handed down White's 90-month sentence for the Measure 11 crime, and 19 additional months for the drug charges, which will be served concurrently, Dames said.

Charges of first-degree assault, unlawful use of a weapon and being a felon in possession of a weapon were dropped in exchange for White's guilty plea to a single count each of attempted murder and delivery and possession of a controlled substance, he said.

White's defense attorney, Christopher Missiaen, declined after the trial to say why his client decided to plead guilty in a case Missiaen had described to jurors less than 24 hours earlier as circumstantial, lacking in physical evidence and fraught with troublesome questions.

Medford police Detective Bill Ford said multiple witnesses saw White shooting Sheeler. Others saw him running from the scene. Still more witnesses were prepared to testify children were playing in the west Medford neighborhood as White sent bullets flying in the early evening hours, Ford said.

"(White) saw the writing on the wall, and he pled," Ford said.

Medford police Sgt. Ralph Sartain, a trained paramedic, was the first to respond to the victim. Sheeler suffered gunshot wounds to his shoulder, lost the tips of two of his fingers and sustained serious damage to his intestines. He was ashen gray, sweating profusely and bleeding heavily, Sartain said.

"He was screaming," said Sartain. "He was losing a lot of blood."

Sartain's depiction of Sheeler's suffering and gruesome, life-threatening wounds was too much for Sheeler's mother, Shawnee McNichlos. She rushed out of the courtroom Tuesday afternoon during Sartain's testimony.

"It was too much for me. Being a mom, I just think of the terror T.J. must have felt," McNichlos said Wednesday afternoon.

At the foot of the courthouse steps Wednesday morning, jurors Shara Baack, John Weygand, Judy Durkee and Marc Salvatore discussed the abbreviated trial.

Each said the process was informative, and all had high praise for Judge Mejia.

"I was very impressed with the judge," said Salvatore. "In a sense, it gave me a new faith in the justice system."

But the jurors also were left with questions about implied racial issues, evidence handling and potential motives that may never be answered.

"You could tell it was not going to be a cut-and-dried case," Durkee said.

Durkee and others wondered why the defendant's gloves had not been tested for gunshot residue and said they were puzzled by White's relaxed courtroom demeanor.

"I was keeping my eye on the defendant," Durkee said. "He was smiling and laughing several times."

They noted Sheeler, who is white, and White, who is black, had previous drug convictions. Even though Sheeler stated in Tuesday's testimony that White was unknown to him, perhaps the pair had some sort of bad blood between them, Salvatore said.

"It was an incredibly violent crime," Salvatore said. "Why does a guy lie in wait and basically try to do an assassination?"

Sheeler testified Tuesday he had been smoking marijuana at a friend's house the afternoon of the shooting. He was walking to the store for a snack when White sprang from the bushes, shouted at him and began firing, Sheeler said.

Dames said it remains unclear why White fired on Sheeler. But it is clear White's intention was to kill Sheeler. And it was only because White's gun jammed that Sheeler's life was saved, Dames said.

"(White) admitted he tried to kill T.J. before the judge," he said.

Sheeler, who was arrested and jailed on a weapons charge on July 4, appeared before Judge Ray White Wednesday afternoon in a plea agreement of his own.

Sheeler testified Tuesday that he was carrying a set of brass knuckles because he remains fearful since he was attacked.

Judge White sentenced Sheeler to 10 days in jail and 18 months supervised probation for being a felon in possession of a weapon. An additional charge of carrying a concealed weapon was dismissed. With credit for time served, Sheeler's release date was set for late Wednesday.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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