Effingham Daily News
A rural Effingham man pleaded guilty in Effingham County Circuit Court Thursday to one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm in connection with the shooting of another man last fall.
With the open plea given in Judge James Eder's courtroom Tuesday, Byron R. Mesnard, 20, could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison in connection with the shooting last Sept. 30 of Shane Gephart.
State's Attorney Bryan Kibler said after the hearing he would seek prison time for Mesnard despite the guilty plea.
"The plea enables us to avoid a lengthy trial," Kibler said. "But at the end of the day, the state will ask for significant prison time."
Kibler said he hadn't decided exactly how much time he would seek for Mesnard. Defense attorney Scott Ealy said after the hearing he would seek probation for Mesnard, who has no criminal history outside of a handful of traffic tickets. He said the open plea allows for that possibility.
"It's important for Byron to have an opportunity to make his case for a sentence of probation," Ealy said. "It's always been understood that the state would seek a prison sentence and the defendant would seek probation."
Ealy said Mesnard is still recovering from the effects of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head sustained shortly after the Gephart shooting, adding the defendant plans to have surgery later this week to have the bullet removed from the bridge of his nose. The self-inflicted wound has been previously characterized as accidental.
But Ealy added the wound in no way implies Mesnard is the victim, despite the fact he has more serious injuries than Gephart, who was shot in the back of the upper leg during the Sept. 30 incident.
"Mr. Gephart is the victim, and we don't want to downplay that in any way," Ealy said.
A more serious charge of aggravated battery with a firearm was dropped in exchange for the plea. That charge, a Class X felony, is punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
Eder accepted a factual basis for the plea from Kibler. The prosecutor said Effingham County sheriff's deputy Dustin Reardon would have testified he was dispatched to the Mesnard home at 9212 N. 1000th Rd. after a report that a man had been shot in the leg.
Kibler said Gephart had arrived at the Mesnard home to pick up a female friend. Mesnard, however, came out of the home and began to shoot a gun in Gephart's direction, hitting the victim once in the rear upper portion of the leg as he tried to get out of the line of fire.
Of the nine shots fired, Kibler said, three hit the windshield of the Gephart vehicle.
Eder declined to set a sentencing date. Instead, the judge set a status hearing for 9:30 a.m. March 25, and ordered a pre-sentence report to be prepared.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@ effinghamdailynews.com