HUNTINGTON — In order to avoid a life sentence, a Huntington man with a violent criminal history pleaded guilty in Cabell Circuit Court on Monday to murder in the shooting death of a homeless man while he walked down a Huntington street last year.
Ronald Eugene Flowers, 44, originally of Michigan, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm in the Oct. 18, 2018, shooting of Jason Allen Shank, 40, along 10th Avenue in Huntington.
Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson sentenced him to serve 40 years for the murder charge. He was also sentenced to five years for the firearm charge and another five year enhancement for being a repeat criminal offender, but those two terms will run at the same time as the murder charge.
In Cabell County it usually takes years for a murder case to be resolved, but defense attorney Connor Robertson said the plea was strategical. The quick plea to second-degree murder would give his client the chance to get out of prison one day.
Flowers has two past felony convictions for first-degree robbery and breaking and entering a home. Had he taken the murder case to trial and been found guilty of any felony, prosecutor Kellie Neal said she would have sought life imprisonment under West Virginia’s three-strike law.
The recidivism law allows prosecutors to seek a longer term of imprisonment — up to life — upon a defendant’s third felony conviction if they are believed to be a threat to society. In recent years the Cabell County Prosecutor’s office has used the clause at least twice successfully.
Shank was found deceased near the intersection of 17th Street and 10th Avenue in Huntington just before 1 a.m. Oct. 18, 2018. Shank was discovered shot on the sidewalk by an area resident and was taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The suspect and the victim did not have a known relationship, according to a news release from the Huntington Police Department.
At Monday’s hearing, the defense said Flowers had been walking along the road with one other person when a fight broke out between Flowers and Shank. Flowers told Ferguson the shooting had been done in self-defense, but he did not feel comfortable with his chances of taking the case to trial, given his past criminal history.
Neal said the state’s evidence would show the killing was not self-defense.
When asked if family was in agreement with the plea, or wished to speak about the impact of the killing on their lives Monday, Neal said prosecutors were unable to reach any family of the victim. Neal said she felt the plea was proper, given the situation.
Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.