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Judge sentences Socastee HS shooter in courtroom

Published: Aug. 10, 2011 at 12:21 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2011 at 8:50 PM EDT
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Officer Karney spoke in court prior to sentencing (Source: WMBF News Reporter Brandon Herring)
Officer Karney spoke in court prior to sentencing (Source: WMBF News Reporter Brandon Herring)

SOCASTEE, SC (WMBF) - The teen who pled guilty to weapons charges and entered an Alford plea for attempted murder Monday has learned his fate Wednesday afternoon.

Inside an Horry County courtroom, Judge Thomas W. Cooper sentenced Christian Helms to six years for the attempted murder charge and six years for one incendiary device charge. He was then sentenced to five years for the other incendiary device charge, which was then suspended to four years probation.

The sentences will run concurrent, and Helms will receive credit for time served.

Helms will stay in juvenile detention until he turns 17-years-old and will then transfer to an adult facility. He is required to serve a minimum of 85% of his sentence on the attempted murder charge.

Before Judge Cooper delivered the sentence, Helms spoke, saying "I want to be better. I want people to be proud of me."

The debate about whether Helms should be considered an adult has been ongoing since September when he was arrested.

Although a judge decided in March that he will be treated as an adult, with his sentencing coming Wednesday, it seems the debate about how to treat the teenager is far from over.

Helms is the 15-year-old boy who shot at Officer Erik Karney, resulting in Karney receiving injuries from shrapnel in the shooting. Pipe bombs were then found inside Helms' backpack after he was detained by Karney and other Horry County Police officers.

He was charged with attempted murder of the school resource officer. He was also charged with two counts of possessing, manufacturing or transporting a destructive device or explosive or parts for damage, injury or death. He originally faced more charges.

On Monday Helms entered pleas for the charges just after jury selection finished. He entered an "Alford" plea on the attempted murder charge - essentially recognizing there was enough evidence to convict him but not admitting guilt. He pleaded guilty to the two bomb-related charges.

"Be merciful to him," said Elizabeth Bowens said as her advice to the judge. "Give him another chance, and let him talk with someone - talk it out."

Bowens was just one of several people at the Socastee Public Library Tuesday who said they support a relatively light sentence for Helms.

Many people said they understand his claims that he was bullied, and they feel he needs a compassionate sentence.

"Because it turned out the way it did, I'd say be lenient and hope that the kid gets the help that he needs and can be released back into society without any trouble," said Keith Fancher.

Most of the people in favor of a light sentence also said they supported treating Helms as a juvenile in the first place. Since that is not longer an option they hope his sentence will focus on his mental health.

"He should be put some place where he can get help, and I don't think it should be for 20 or 25 years," commented one woman.

Some people say they do agree with treating Helms as an adult. Elizabeth Lewis said his sentencing should reflect the seriousness of his crimes.

"He knew what he was doing. He brought it to school. He had a loaded gun. He had a hit list," she said. "No two years. No juvenile stuff. No. He really needs to be in there until about 30 - let him think on it."

Curtis Fowble has served time in prison, and when he considers the Helms case he thinks a conditional sentence would be a good fit.

"He should not get a slap on the wrist," Fowble said. "He should not get a slap on the wrist. It's very serious offenses.

"Based on your behavior and your responsiveness to counseling and such, pending your 19th or 21st birthday - somewhere in there - you would stand a chance of getting out, but if you didn't and you didn't and you go in there and you buck the system and you go in there and be a hard head and cause problems and get in trouble and fights and all this, that, and the other, then they should have some conditions in there that allow them to restructure his sentence to a point that they could just roll his right into the adult prison."

If Helms were treated as a juvenile he would have remained in the juvenile justice system no longer than age 21.

By being treated as an adult he would potentially remain in juvenile justice until age 17, and then he would be transferred to the adult system where he could potentially serve a sentence beyond age 21.

The prosecution did not offer Helms a deal for his pleas on Monday. So solicitors have not recommended a sentence.

Each bomb-related charge carried a prison sentence of 2 to 15 years. The attempted murder charge did not have a minimum prison sentence require, and it carried a maximum sentence of 30 years.

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All rights reserved.