A Trafalgar man was sentenced to 45 years in prison after pleading guilty to the murder of another man during a dispute about a woman.
Justen Knapp, 20, pleaded guilty to the murder of 20-year-old Bradley Kyle Price of Nineveh in October. Knapp said he repeatedly shot Price in a field north of Morgantown where they had met to fight.
Price’s mother told the court during the sentencing hearing that her son had his whole life ahead of him after recently earning his GED and landing a new job.
Morgan County Superior Court 1 Judge G. Thomas Gray sentenced Knapp to 45 years in prison, the minimum he could receive on the murder charge, and five years on probation. Gray noted that Knapp shot Price five times, but that fact was outweighed by other factors, including that Knapp was 19 at the time of the shooting, that he had no previous criminal record, and that Knapp had given an apology that struck him as heartfelt and not what he is used to hearing from defendants making bids for leniency.
Knapp read a prepared statement in the sentencing hearing Thursday saying nothing he could say or do would bring Price back, that his family would hate him for eternity and that he accepted his punishment because he was responsible. He said that he had been in a drug-induced haze at the time of the shooting but now could see clearly and had to live with the burden of what he did.
He faced a sentence of no more than 50 years in prison because of a plea agreement with the Morgan County Prosecutor’s Office.
A murder charge carries a sentence 45 to 65 years in prison in Indiana, but the prosecutor’s office agreed to a sentence of no more than 50 years in exchange for the guilty plea. The prosecutor’s office also dropped a felony charge of using a firearm in a murder.
When they first met, Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega told Price’s mother, Vicki Price, that he wished he could pursue the death penalty but the case didn’t qualify.
Vicki Price said during the sentencing hearing that she wouldn’t have wanted the death penalty for Knapp, because she wouldn’t want to put his mother through the same grief she has been through.
“Life is given, not taken,” she said. “Bradley should never have been taken from us.”
She tearfully told the court her son was so young that he never even had the opportunity to drive on the interstate before he died, and that he had his whole life ahead of him. He recently had completed his GED, which she got in the mail six days after his death, and was about to start a new job.
Price was supposed to be the best man at his sister’s wedding, but that was taken away from her, too, she said. Her daughter has been grief-stricken and questioning why her brother died such a senseless death.
“It’s days like this I hate you the most,” she told Knapp, who was sitting a few feet away. “He’d be getting off work now, playing basketball with his friends.”
Price had been a talented athlete who could throw an 80-mph fastball, she said. He cared for others and once stopped at a stranger’s house to put out a grill fire he noticed while driving by.
He always wore his seat belt while driving and said his prayers before dinner, even though his friends didn’t, Vicki Price said. He talked about having or adopting children, loved his nieces and nephews and admired his grandfather so much that he had his name tattooed on him.
His grandfather still sends text messages to his old phone number, telling Price that he loves him, knowing that no one will ever respond, she said.
“You didn’t just take Bradley,” she told Knapp. “You took my whole family.”
Vicki Price asked Knapp whether her son had had any last words and whether he suffered. Knapp, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit in the high-ceiling courtroom, responded that her son didn’t suffer and that he was terribly sorry, then looked down.
In October, Knapp and Price agreed to meet in a field to fight about a woman both were dating.
Price and two friends were waiting when Knapp and a friend arrived in a pickup truck, Morgan County Sheriff’s Office detective Larry D. Sanders said.
Knapp pulled out a .380-caliber handgun and fired five times about an arm’s length away, hitting Bradley Price in the chest, abdomen, wrist and back of the head.
Knapp threatened to kill Bradley Price’s friends if they told anyone or moved the body and then went to a friend’s home in Morgantown after hiding the gun, Sanders said.
Knapp later told police that he’d never get into a fight without a gun or a knife, according to a probable cause affidavit.
After he was tracked down and taken into custody, Knapp led police to the gun and described exactly what happened, Sanders said.
He had a carefree attitude and was acting as though he had gotten a speeding ticket and not just shot someone to death, Sanders said. Knapp had been using marijuana and prescription pills at the time and didn’t seem to grasp the enormity of what he had done.