Man changes plea to guilty in shooting of Tennessee officer

AP News
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Posted: Apr 28, 2017 2:55 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — An ex-convict facing federal charges in the fatal shooting of a Tennessee police officer has changed his plea to guilty.

Tremaine Wilbourn had pleaded not guilty to charges filed in December 2015 in the killing of Memphis Police Officer Sean Bolton. Authorities said Tremaine Wilbourn shot Bolton several times in August 2015 while Bolton was attempting to detain him.

Federal prosecutors charged Wilbourn with carjacking, possessing a firearm during and in relation to the carjacking, and felony possession of ammunition. Wilbourn pleaded guilty to all three charges. According to an indictment, Wilbourn used a gun while carjacking a man on the same day of the officer's shooting.

Wilbourn had faced trial starting May 15. Sentencing will now take place July 28. He faces no less than 25 years in prison. The 31-year-old Wilbourn still faces first-degree-murder and other charges in state court. State prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Bolton, who was white, is one of four police officers to be fatally shot in Memphis since July 2011. Wilbourn is black.

Police said Bolton interrupted a drug deal taking place inside a vehicle in a residential neighborhood in Memphis. Wilbourn, who was a passenger in the car, got out and confronted the officer, and they got into a physical struggle. Wilbourn took out a gun and shot Bolton, police said. An autopsy report shows Bolton was shot eight times.

Wilbourn fled the scene and carjacked a motorist as he got away, prosecutors said. In pretrial motions, prosecutors said Wilbourn carjacked a vehicle from Desric Ivory only a few minutes after the shooting, telling Ivory that "he needed the car because he had just shot a police officer."

Wilbourn led officers on an intense, two-day manhunt before turning himself in to U.S. marshals.

Wilbourn's sister, Callie Watkins, has told The Associated Press that her brother was trying to defend himself from an aggressive officer who had him in a hold. His defense attorneys planned to challenge Ivory's identification of Wilbourn as the person who carjacked him, according to pretrial motions.

If the case had gone to trial, prosecutors planned to present witnesses who allegedly saw Wilbourn shoot Bolton with a pistol and recovered spent shell casings at the shooting scene.

At the time of the shooting, Wilbourn was on federal probation for an armed bank robbery. Wilbourn was sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison and released on probation in July 2014. He was ordered to undergo mental health treatment, according to court documents. It's not clear whether he was ever evaluated.