LIVINGSTON, La. — A former death row inmate who maintained his innocence in the 1998 killing of a pizza-delivery boy outside Albany has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
The Advocate reported that with credit for the 19 years already spent in custody, Michael Wearry, 40, of Albany, has served most of his prison term, leaving about 5½ years left on his sentence. He could become parole eligible, but that decision would be made by the state Department of Corrections, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Scott Perrilloux's office said.
State District Judge Robert Morrison sentenced Wearry on Dec. 26 in the death of Eric Walber, a 16-year-old Albany High School honor student and football player.
An attorney for Wearry did not immediately return a telephone call or email seeking comment.
Wearry was among six people convicted in Walber's death.
The Livingston Parish District Attorney's Office said Walber had just delivered a pizza about 8:30 p.m. on April 4, 1998, and was driving back through the Haynes Settlement area when he was stopped by Randy Hutchinson and Wearry.
Walber was placed in the back of the car and the men drove away, prosecutors said. After going a short distance, Wearry and Hutchinson pulled Walber out of the car, went through his pockets and began to beat him. He then was placed back into the vehicle and the men drove to a convenience store where they encountered Eric Brown and James Skinner in another car. Both vehicles then went to a remote area where the men and two others — Sam Scott and Shadrick Reed — continued to beat Walber.
Skinner realized he knew the victim who had probably seen his face and he decided that Walber could not be allowed to live. At that point, Skinner got behind Walber's vehicle and instructed Wearry and Hutchinson to hold the victim up while he ran over him. Walber's body was then moved to the side of the road where he was left to die.
Scott and Reed gave statements implicating everyone involved, including the acts of Wearry which led to his guilty plea.
"After an honest evaluation of the evidence in this case and the likelihood that we could not present this case again successfully to a jury, this was the right decision to make, to take away that risk," said Perrilloux. Additionally, this is the first time any of the participants has admitted to any involvement in this homicide, which was important for the victim's mother to hear, he said.
The case was originally tried in 2002 when Wearry was found guilty and sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court set aside the verdict and sentence in 2016, ruling prosecutors failed to disclose information that could have aided his defense.
He was expected to go to trial Jan. 22 for first-degree murder.