McCraw sentenced to 16 to 20 years in prison
The estranged husband of Theresa McCraw pled guilty of second degree murder in Superior Court Monday morning.
Michael McCraw, 62, stood beside his attorney Daniel Talbert and pled guilty to second degree murder and guilty of violating a domestic violence protective order that was issued a month before he shot and killed Theresa McCraw on Dec. 17, 2011, at Mountain View Kennels in Bostic.
"Yes, your honor. I am guilty," Michael said to Superior Court Judge Bradley Letts.
After the sentencing phase of the hearing, Letts, sentenced Michael to 16 to 20 years in prison with no chance of probation or appeals.
He was transported to the Department of Correction in Raleigh after the 90-minute hearing. He will receive credit for the 568 days he has served in the Rutherford County Detention Facility.
During the hearing Monday, District Attorney Brad Greenway told the scenario leading up to Theresa's murder.
On Saturday night, Dec. 16, 2011, Michael had supper with family in Charlotte where he was living and then drove to Forest City where he stayed at the Quality Inn. At about 4 a.m., he drove to Mountain View Kennels.
Neighbors told Greenway they saw the tail lights of the car and thought it was someone getting ready to set up to hunt in the woods.
Evidence showed McCraw drove up and got into the barn loft and stayed until about 8 a.m. when Theresa went to the kennels to check on all the boarders.
There he used a pistol to shoot Theresa first in the back and then two more times in the head.
"He was lying in wait," Greenway said.
Greenway said the bullets did not exit her head and they came from a .25 caliber pistol Michael had purchased.
Talbert of Shelby said his client was "unclear" about what happened that day, but did remember buying the gun.
Greenway said after Rutherford County Sheriff's Officers and State Bureau of Investigation secured a search warrant they went to his Charlotte apartment. While there, Michael walked into the apartment and was arrested.
Greenway said after Michael left the kennels after the shooting, he drove to Boiling Springs where there was also evidence he tried to commit suicide in his vehicle with carbon monoxide poisoning, but did not follow through.
Greenway told the court he would have never agreed to a plea bargain in a domestic violence case, but Talbert asked him to talk with her sons about a possible plea.
"The number one reason I agreed to a plea is they (her sons) wanted to get this behind them. They wanted to solve this matter."
The length of the sentence and Michael's health were factors in the plea, Greenway said.
Her sons, US Marine Sgt. Chip Hoppes of Beaufort, S.C., and Cooper Sellers of Austin, Texas sat on the front row of the courtroom, clutching the hands of their wives throughout the morning.
Tears were shed by family members and friends during the emotional hearing.
Greenway said Hoppes told him the thought of having to go through a trial had kept him awake for the past two weeks. They dreaded the process of the trial and wanted to try to move on with their lives. Both sons have five children between them.
During the sentencing phase, Theresa's sons and several others spoke on her behalf.
Hoppes told the court, "we were family." He said a day doesn't go by that he doesn't think of his mother and what happened. He said there is such anger and sadness.
He said the acts of Michael taking his mother's life were "unacceptable and justice will be rewarded at the end of this."
Although there was a second degree murder plea, he told the court everyone knows what the crime really was. Michael was charged with first degree murder.
Hoppes asked for the maximum sentence.
Cooper said his mother taught him work ethics. "A more generous person you'll never know," he said.
He said the end of his mother's life was a tremendous disservice to her. "The pain and shot in cold blood."
Sellers said he can't come to terms with the crime.
"I have been robbed of intimate moments" he said.
He said his 7-year-old daughter will not have an opportunity to really know her and his 2-year-old son "will never know her at all." Her grandchildren were robbed of everything about her.
"The pain is great that he will not know her. It's a heavy burden," Sellers said.
He also asked for maximum sentence and he hoped the end of Michael's life will be of pain and grief, as his mother's life was.
Ellen Montgomery, childhood friend from Maryland, said she would have never thought she'd be in a courtroom for this matter.
"She had a big heart," she said."We lost a precious person and my world changed forever" after Michael acts, Montgomery said.
Friend Donna Hallman said Michael turned "our lives upside down."
Lynn Faltraco, executive director of the Community Pet Center, spoke on behalf of the the center's volunteers and pets.
Faltraco said Theresa opened her kennel to house rescued animals saved from the Rutherford County Animal Shelter. She was well-respected and loved not only in Rutherford County but up and down the Eastern seaboard as well as in Canada, France and England.
Faltraco said she talked with Theresa every day for two years, working to help Theresa save, place, transport and arranged for animal rescues.
Faltraco also asked for the maximum penalty.
"The murder of Theresa is and will always be a terrible and senseless tragedy as well as a devastating loss to her family, our county and the rescue community," Faltraco said.
"He accepts the responsibility," Talbert said. "He wants to address the court."
Michael told Theresa's family he was sorry. "Nothing can be done about it know. I loved her. I don't know what happened," he said.
He admitted after the couple's separation in March 2011, eight months before he shot her to death, his life fell apart and he was very depressed. He saw counselors on a regular basis during the year.
"I am deeply sorry. I do accept responsibility," he said looking at Hoppes and Sellers.
Two of Michael's friends, Eric Paris and John Groom, said the Michael McCraw on Dec. 17, 2011, was not the Michael McCraw they knew and grew up with.
"Yes, he did a horrible thing, but Michael is a different person. There is no excuse for what he did," said Paris.
He said Michael had struggled with depression since the couple separated.
"We can't undo this . . .he accepted responsiblity today," Groom said of McCraw.
Earlier in the courtroom Hoppes spoke to Michael 80-year-old mother and told her it wasn't her fault and he was sorry for her.
Letts asked Michael several questions regarding the case. "Yes, your honor. I am guilty," he responded to a final question.
Letts addressed Theresa's sons and told them he had not had an opportunity to know her. "She must have been an exceptional, amazing person," Letts said.
He learned the most about her from the testimony of Hoppes and Sellers, and said she was a good mother to them and loved them very much.
Letts told the sons they were impressive and amazing men and credited their mother for their character.
"I capture the loss you feel for the special person she was. She was loved by you," he said.
Letts said he also loves dogs was impressed with Theresa's work with the Community Pet Center in helping place homeless animals and doing everything she would to provide a "loving home for our furry friends."
"This is terribly sad and I am sorry for you," he told the sons. "This is an opportunity to begin the healing process to the best we can."
Letts said he understands the love and the special bond of a mother and son.
"No mother could be as proud as she was of you today. We're all grateful for Mrs. McCraw," Letts said.
After the judge released Michael to the sheriff's department and released his family from the courtroom, he left the bench and walked into the courtroom and shook the hands of Hoppes and Sellers, and expressed his condolences.