GREENFIELD — Prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges Monday against a Pendleton man accused of dumping a friend’s dead body along a county road, offering the defendant a plea deal for two lower-level felonies and a misdemeanor in exchange for his testimony against a second man charged in the crime.
Shawn Hammons, 40, Pendleton, agreed Monday to serve a 39-year sentence for planning the drug deal that resulted in the death of Shannon Kitchens, 55, of McCordsville and moving Kitchens’ body after he’d been shot, records show.
Kitchens’ body was found in 3300 block of West County Road 500N on March 1. He died of a single gunshot wound, police said.
The agreement, which is pending approval by a judge, calls for Hammons to serve a 39-year sentence, dividing his punishment between 20 years in prison and 19 years on probation, provided he testify against another man charged in the murder — Damian Coleman, 40, 11303 Lynchburg Way, Indianapolis.
Family members pointed investigators toward Hammons after Kitchens’ body was found, saying they knew Kitchens had left earlier the day he was killed with a friend named Shawn.
Hammons told police he and Kitchens arranged to meet Coleman to purchase crack cocaine on March 1 — the day Kitchens is believed to have been killed. When Coleman joined the pair in Hammons’ car, the exchange quickly turned into a robbery, investigators believe.
But prosecutors say they need Hammons to tell a jury exactly what happened in that car to convict Coleman of murder. They opted to pen an agreement with Hammons to ensure he testify at Coleman’s trial.
Hammons told police it was Coleman who pulled the trigger. That evidence needs to be presented in Coleman’s trial in January, Prosecutor Brent Eaton said. Hammons’ sentencing hearing has been delayed until February — well after Coleman’s trial is expected to conclude — to make sure Hammons upholds his end of the bargain.
Hammons pleaded guilty Monday to three of the eight charges he’d faced: a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit dealing cocaine; a Level 6 felony count of altering the scene of a death; and a Class A misdemeanor count of failure to report a dead body. Hammons also admitted to being an habitual offender, which will make his final sentence more severe.
In exchange for Hammons’ testimony against Coleman, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the following charges: two counts of murder; a Level 3 felony count of robbery while armed with a deadly weapon; a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit robbery while armed with a deadly weapon; and a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal narcotic drugs.
Had Hammons been found guilty of all counts at trial, he would have faced 101 years in prison, officials said.
Investigators pieced together the timeline leading to Kitchens death by reviewing texts Hammons and Coleman exchanged in the hours prior to the shooting.
Those messages suggest the pair had planned to rob Kitchens of a $14,000 check they knew the victim had recently received, court records state.
“I want his money,” one text message Hammons sent to Coleman read, while another asked if Coleman had a pistol, according to charging documents.
When interviewed by police after Kitchens’ body was found, Hammons said he and Kitchens had smoked crack cocaine together and they contacted Coleman to get more drugs when their supply ran out, records state.
Hammons and Kitchens arranged for Coleman to meet them with drugs at a Check ‘n Go in Lawrence, where Kitchens cashed the $14,000 check, court documents state.
Hammons told police after Kitchens had cashed the check, he returned to Hammons’ car and sat into the front passenger seat while Coleman climbed in the backseat, court documents state.
Hammons said Coleman pulled a gun, there was a scuffle, and Kitchens was shot, court documents state. Blood was later found in Hammons’ vehicle, police said.
Hammons was arrested March 2 and charged a week later. He’ll remain in the Hancock County Jail until his sentencing hearing on Feb. 14, at which time a judge may sign off on the plea agreement.
Coleman was charged March 8 and remains in the Hancock County Jail without bond.
He faces two counts of murder; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to commit robbery while armed; a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit robbery resulting in bodily injury; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal cocaine; and a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to deal cocaine.
Coleman’s trial is expected to begin Jan. 24 at 8 a.m. in Hancock Circuit Court.
“We believe the evidence in January will show Mr. Coleman is guilty of murder,” Eaton said. “And we anticipate Mr. Hammons’ testimony will be useful.”