Grant Avenue resident Andrew D. Johnson admitted Friday he killed his next-door neighbor.
As family of the victim looked on, Johnson, 60, pleaded guilty in Erie County Common Pleas Court to involuntary manslaughter, a first-degree felony.
In July 2007, Gerald Gilliam, 39, was shot and left dying in his backyard. When police arrived at the scene they found Johnson with a .38-caliber revolver in his hand. Gilliam was taken to the hospital, where he died a few hours later.
Gilliam's widow, Sandy, 43, and his son quietly observed the proceedings.
Attorney Gerald Smith, who represents Johnson, said all requests for evidence in the case had been processed.
"It's obviously a tragedy, this whole situation," he said.
Wearing a blue collared shirt and black slacks, Johnson said little during proceedings, save for answering presiding Judge Tygh Tone's questions regarding the plea.
"He's aware of the possible penalties involved," Smith said. "We've had many, many discussions about this."
Johnson faces up to 10 years in prison but none of that time is mandatory, said Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter.
Johnson declined comment after the hearing, as did some of Gilliam's family. No one answered the door Friday afternoon at Sandy Gilliam's Grant Avenue home, where a "For Sale" sign is posted outside.
"It's was a little unsettling moving in here after it happened," said neighbor Wendy Wirsche, who has lived across the street from Johnson's home for about eight months.
Twin brothers Calvonte and Michael Harper, 8, said they used to play basketball with "Jerry" Gilliam and that Johnson would visit.
"We always see her when she comes past our house," Calvonte Harper said of neighbor Sandy Gilliam.
Another neighbor said Johnson "did the right thing" in pleading guilty, but said the shooting has affected the whole neighborhood. Residents are not inclined to talk about the incident as they are still hurting, he said.
Johnson was originally charged with murder and voluntary manslaughter. As part of the plea agreement those charges were dropped, as was a gun specification. Johnson will be sentenced May 23 and faces up to $20,000 in fines.
Johnson's bond was continued, and he remains on house arrest.
Last month a lawsuit was filed against Johnson by Sandy Gilliam alleging he caused "severe and debilitating emotional distress" to her as a result of the shooting, according to the lawsuit.
She says Johnson should be liable for at least $25,000, court records state. Her attorney, Ed Rhode, did not return a call for comment on the case.
An agreed judgment entry was sent to Tone at the end of February, according to court records. So far there has been no ruling on it.
A tragic day: July 7, 2007
Alcohol, marijuana and racial slurs all played a role in the events leading up to the slaying, police said.
The initial 911 call came in at about 9 p.m. A witness pointed toward Andrew Johnson's home to identify the shooting suspect, saying, "He's in there."
Johnson told police Gerald Gilliam jumped over onto his property and hit him "upside the head." Johnson said he was hit by Gilliam a couple of times. Johnson said he got the gun after Gilliam started cussing him out. Johnson told police he "did not want to try to kill him, but he was just shooting downward."
Johnson fired once, hitting the ground. A second shot hit Gilliam in the midsection. Johnson told police he was shooting the gun to "scare" Gilliam.
When police arrived Johnson exited his home and extended his hands palms upward, revealing a .38-caliber chrome revolver in one. Police ordered Johnson to drop the gun. He complied and was arrested.
Gilliam was taken to the hospital and died a few hours later. Police found numerous bottles and cans of beer and alcohol in the area behind Johnson's house.
Sandy Gilliam told police Johnson and her husband were "best of friends" and the two would drink together often and go to each other's houses for cookouts.
Source: Perkins police reports