A19-year-old pleaded guilty Monday in Roanoke County to killing three young people whom he had described to authorities as his only friends in the world.
Trevor E. Charles was handed three life sentences, with no possibility of early release, in keeping with the terms of a plea agreement.
In a series of single-word answers, he pleaded guilty to opening fire in a Bent Mountain home last summer and shooting 20-year-old Brandon Dekle, 20-year-old Cole Kennedy and 18-year-old Miranda Trump.
The motive for the shootings remains unclear. Charles, who was 18 at the time of the attack, didn’t take the stand during the hearing and quietly waived an opportunity to make a final statement.
Defense attorney Deborah Caldwell-Bono said Charles wanted the families of the victims to know how remorseful he was for what happened that day.
Relatives and friends filled at least three rows of the courtroom gallery as the proceedings got underway. Some wiped away tears when Charles was escorted into the room. Several were wearing shirts bearing pictures of the victims framed by the image of a mountain range.
“Gone But Not Forgotten,” read the message printed underneath.
Turning to them, Caldwell-Bono said Charles was deeply sorry for the pain he had created. “If he could give his own life to bring them back, he said he would do it,” she said.
Last year, when questioned by police, Charles initially denied any involvement in the shootings but later made a tearful confession, sobbing as he said he’d killed his only friends, according to recordings and transcripts of the interview.
At one point, he said he’d been under the influence of drugs. Later, he said he’d been hearing voices urging him to attack.
Those claims weren’t explored further by either side in court Monday. Attorneys for both the defense and prosecution said afterward they couldn’t shed any new light on what might have led up to the murders.
During a hearing held last year, county prosecutors had been skeptical of Charles’ claim of hearing malicious voices.
On Monday morning, Charles appeared in Roanoke County Circuit Court and pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, one count of capital murder for the killing of multiple people and three counts of using a gun in the commission of a crime.
When asked by Judge James Swanson if he was pleading because he was in fact guilty of those crimes, Charles quietly answered yes.
In keeping with the terms of the plea agreement, he was sentenced to three life terms, as well as additional 13 years on the gun-related charges. His sentence specifies there is no possibility of parole. In 1995, Virginia largely abolished parole, but inmates can be considered for other forms of early release such as geriatic release or credits for good behavior.
Those won’t be options for Charles, officials said.
In a joint statement, the families of the victims said they supported the agreement and are now focusing on working to heal.
They thanked investigators, prosecutors and the Bent Mountain community for the outpouring of support received.
Dekle, Kennedy and Trump were all described as bringing a loving heart and an infectious enthusiasm to the world around them.
“Our lives will never be the same and we will miss each of them every single day,” their families said in the statement.
“We will always be grateful for how hard everyone has worked to support our families and enable us to take our first steps in healing.”
Acting Commonwealth’s Attorney Aaron Lavinder said he hoped the conclusion of the court proceedings would help the families as they move forward.
“There is no question that this was a horrible, tragic event,” he said of the shooting. “This agreement brings this matter to a close and, hopefully, allows the families to continue their grieving process.”