It was an emotional day in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court as a mother addressed the court and the man responsible for killing her sleeping 8-year-old son last year.
Shawn Wilson, 21, of Youngs-town, pleaded guilty Monday to charges of aggravated murder, improper discharge of a firearm, felonious assault and tampering with evidence in the murder of Bryce Linebaugh. The child was sleeping in his East Side apartment bed in the Rockford Village housing development when the fatal shots were fired Aug. 20.
Wilson initially had faced the death penalty, but in a plea deal with prosecutors, the death penalty was taken off the table.
Dawn Cantalamessa, an assistant county prosecutor, recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole in exchange for Wilson’s guilty plea. Judge R. Scott Krichbaum accepted that recommendation after stirring words from the victim’s mother.
Jessica Linebaugh, Bryce’s mother, gingerly walked to the podium to address the court, showing difficulty in keeping her composure. She broke down every time she attempted to mention her first-born child, whom she described as obedient, caring and well-mannered.
“He took away a good little boy. He wanted to go into the Army when he grew up. He wanted to save the world. ... He was only 8 years old and had his whole life to live,” she said.
Linebaugh said Bryce would go to the retirement village where his grandmother lives and help tend to the dogs of those living there. The day he was murdered, she said, the football player spent time showing his younger siblings how to do push-ups.
“Your child is supposed to be safest in their beds,” she told the court through tears.
“This man [Wilson] does not deserve to breathe the same air that the rest of us breathe.”
Wilson stared forward occasionally looking at the back of the grief- stricken mother during her address to the court, but he expressed his own remorse when given the opportunity to speak minutes later.
Wilson apologized to the court and the Linebaugh family for his actions, saying his upbringing played a major role in his decisions that led to the Bryce’s death.
Atty. Ronald Yarwood, representing Wilson, told the court earlier that Wilson’s mother was killed in front of him and that Wilson had other psychological issues.
“I want to let everyone know not to play with guns,” Wilson said. “It hurt me seeing [Linebaugh] like this because all I could see in my head is my mother crying and being hurt like this.”
After the words from Linebaugh and apology from Wilson, Judge Krichbaum said the tragedy seen in the courtroom was almost enough to bring him to tears as well.
Cantalamessa said the prosecutor’s office agreed to the plea deal because it places Wilson in prison for the rest of his natural life and gives the family a chance to begin healing from a very fresh wound.
“This is an agreed- upon life sentence with no appeal,” she said. “It is so fresh in the mom’s mind that it would be highly emotional to go forward with a trial.”