LIMA — A man charged with murder in the January 2019 shooting death of Lima resident Branson Tucker stunned his attorney, prosecutors and the judge Wednesday morning with his 11th-hour rejection of a previously-accepted plea deal.
Jerome Fuqua, 60, appeared in Allen County Common Pleas Court for a change-of-plea hearing after verbally agreeing to the prosecutors’ offer. Fuqua, charged with murder, felonious assault with a firearm and having a weapon under disability in connection with Tucker’s death instead indicated to Judge Terri Kohlrieser that he now intends to take his case to trial before a jury.
A jury trial for Fuqua had previously been scheduled to begin Monday, but the plea deal previously agreed to by the defendant further complicated scheduling matters. Defense Attorney Steve Chamberlain told Kohlrieser during Wednesday morning’s hearing that he had stopped preparing for Fuqua’s trial after his client verbally accepted the deal from prosecutors recently. In fact, Chamberlain told the judge, he now has another jury trial scheduled to begin on Monday. He asked Kohlrieser to set a new date for Fuqua’s trial.
Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kenneth Sturgill put on the official record the deal offered by prosecutors that would have limited Fuqua’s prison sentence to four years. Under the terms of that deal, Fuqua would have pleaded guilty to the felonious assault charge, a felony of the second degree, in exchange for the state’s dismissal of the remaining charges and specifications, including the murder count.
Fuqua and Lima resident Kenneth Cobb, 60, were taken into custody and charged with murder on Jan. 16, 2019, one day after Tucker was found dead inside a vehicle that had been involved in an early-morning traffic accident in the 600 block of Michael Avenue. Tucker was found suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso and died later that morning at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.
Cobb took his case to trial, and his attorney laid out a self-defense claim, arguing Cobb was protecting himself from physical harm when he shot Tucker in the leg during a gambling argument at an after-hours establishment at 975 St. Johns Ave., Lima.
In a taped interview with police that was played for jurors during his trial, Cobb admitted he had fired the shots from a handgun that killed Tucker. Fuqua earlier had admitted to police he provided the weapon used in the shooting.
Cobb was acquitted on a charge of murder by the jury Jan. 31 but was found guilty of felonious assault with a firearm in connection with Tucker’s death. He faces up to 14 years in prison when he is sentenced April 2.