A Temple man and a Waco woman pleaded guilty Tuesday in a February 2015 home-invasion robbery in which one of the robbers and a robbery victim were shot and killed.
Cierra McKenzie Barber, 22, and Garrett Marshall Gage, 19, both had been charged with capital murder in the robbery-slayings at an apartment in the 1900 block of South 16th Street in Waco.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the capital murder charges in exchange for Barber and Gage pleading guilty to first-degree felony aggravated robbery charges, sparing them both from potential sentences of life in prison without parole.
Judge George Allen accepted the plea agreements and sentenced Barber, said to be the mastermind of the botched robbery, to 30 years in prison. Gage was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Both must serve at least half of their sentences before they are eligible for parole.
Police have said that Barber recruited Gage and Keith William McClure to rob the apartment of drugs and cash and drove them to the location about 10:30 p.m. There were eight people inside at the time Gage and McClure entered, and both were struck when an occupant of the apartment, Chantz Wayne Hefelfinger, opened fire with a rifle.
Braeden Freeman, a 20-year-old Mart High School graduate, was shot and killed inside the apartment, and police initially thought that McClure shot him. Later, however, officials determined that Hefelfinger fired the shots that killed both Freeman and McClure.
Police perceived that Hefelfinger was acting in self-defense and defense of others, and he was not charged.
McClure, 19, of Temple, collapsed in the parking lot of the apartment complex and died later at a local hospital. Gage, who was grazed in the leg, was arrested several blocks away from the apartment, police have said.
Tuesday’s plea hearing was attended by about 75 people, many of whom cried during emotional victim-impact statements from Freeman’s father, mother and sister.
“I don’t know what to say except may God forgive you,” Barry Freeman told Barber and Gage. “May you find God in your hearts, and I hope you think about what your actions have done to your parents. I have forgiven, but I can’t forget. There is so much I would like to say, but all I can say is God bless you, God forgive you.”
Freeman’s mother, Nicole Freeman, a registered nurse, lamented the fact that she has helped save hundreds of lives as a nurse but could not save her son.
She read from her son’s obituary and read a poem she wrote in memory of her son, who was attending McLennan Community College.
“I’ll never forget what you did and how your horrid actions changed the course of our lives forever,” she said. “I do applaud both of you for taking responsibility for your actions and sparing us the pain of a trial. I do thank you for that.”
Freeman’s younger sister, Savannah Freeman, told the pair that she gladly would give them “every ounce of your freedom” to spend one more second with her brother.
“It’s a tragedy for everyone involved,” prosecutor Michael Jarrett said. “Hundreds of lives were changed forever because of their stupid decisions.”
After the hearing, Gage’s father, Tommy Gage, and Barry Freeman clutched each other tightly in an emotional embrace. Each man cried as the toll the incident has taken on their lives came to bear.
“It was the right thing to do,” said Tommy Gage, a contractor in Temple. “I just wanted him to know that I am really sorry for his loss and that we grieve for his family and are praying for his family. It is horrible for everyone involved, and I am so sorry for his loss. He asked me if I thought Garrett was going to be OK.”
Tommy Gage said his son got involved in the incident through Barber. While Garrett Gage carried a gun into the apartment, it was not loaded or operational, his father said, adding that neither his son nor McClure fired any shots that night.
“Our thing is Garrett was involved in the act, but he didn’t cause the death,” Tommy Gage said. “I just don’t see what happened today as justice. He didn’t take these people’s lives.”
Tommy Gage said he thinks a sentence of 20 or 25 years would have been more appropriate in his son’s case.