Guilty plea in Norwich cold case death

Bruce "Man Man" Gathers, whose murder trial in July 2012 ended in a mistrial, pleaded guilty this morning to a lesser charge in connection with the shooting death of 19-year-old Sean Hill in Norwich in 2006.

Gathers, 33, will be sentenced in May to 10 ½ years in prison, followed by four years of special parole, for first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. Since he has been incarcerated on related charges since November 2006, he will have already served much of his prison term by the time he is sentenced.

Hill's family had been distressed last summer when Judge Arthur C. Hadden declared a mistrial in Gathers' murder case after a 12-member jury notified him that it was "split down the middle" and unable to reach a verdict. This morning, Hill's mother, Virginia Hill, said she was eager for a resolution to the case.

"I just want to hear him say it," Mrs. Hill said. And when Judge Susan B. Handy asked Gathers how he was pleading and he uttered the word, "Guilty," she broke into tears.

At trial, the state's case had relied heavily on the testimony of Justin Smith, a friend of Hill who was with him in downtown Norwich that night. Smith had testified that he was pistol-whipped and robbed by Gathers moments before the shooting and that he saw Gathers shoot Hill as the two tussled near the intersection of Boswell Avenue and Lake Street.

Prosecutor Stephen M. Carney said Gathers was upset because Hill's friend had been selling crack cocaine on his turf. He acknowledged that Hill's family does not endorse the plea deal that Gathers accepted today, but noted the difficulty that the state had in proving what had become a cold case by the time Gathers and Gregory "Biscuit" Smith were arrested.

Gathers' attorney, Michael A. Fitzpatrick, had pinned the shooting on Smith at the trial.

"It's a favorable disposition, but it's not an unjust disposition to either side given the outcome of the trial," Fitzpatrick said today.

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