One night, two lives changed forever: Case against shooter of neighborhood burglar ends in plea deal
A man who saw a teenager burglarizing a neighbor’s vehicle in the middle of the night and shot him in the back as he walked away in the dark has agreed to a plea deal that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
“Send somebody,” the man told a 911 dispatcher, moments after a gunshot can be heard on the recording. “I think I’ve shot someone.”
A neighbor also dialed 911: “I just heard a gunshot outside,” she said. “It was pretty close, and I looked out the window and I saw some people running down the street.”
The plea agreement, expected to be entered Thursday in Alachua County Circuit Court, would resolve a sensational case involving a shooting just after 2 a.m. in September 2021. Chad Edward Locke, 53, said he fired his pistol because he wasn’t sure whether the 16-year-old was carrying a weapon in the darkness. Locke moved from Gainesville to Kissimmee after the shooting.
Under the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to drop a charge of attempted murder, which could have sent Locke to prison for life. Instead, Locke was expected to plead no contest to aggravated battery. His trial on the attempted murder charge had been scheduled to begin next week.
Locke and his lawyer, Kenneth J. Hamner of Windermere, did not immediately respond to messages.
The shooting victim, Odaris Wills, now 18, of Gainesville pleaded no contest last week in an unrelated case to carrying a concealed weapon and possessing a weapon as a juvenile delinquent and was sentenced to six months in jail. He is scheduled to be released from jail on the gun charge on Christmas Day.
In that case, police said Wills was in the back seat of a car during a traffic stop at 1:45 a.m. May 27 and acted nervously enough that an officer searched him and found a pistol in his waistband. Wills told the officer someone else in the car handed him the gun as the car was pulled over.
Wills could not be interviewed. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office blocks news organizations from requesting interviews with detainees without written consent from a senior jail official and a defendant’s lawyers, even when a defendant wants to talk to journalists. Wills was deposed in the shooting case by lawyers on June 22.
After the 2021 shooting, Locke told deputies that while watching television he noticed movement across the street on his surveillance camera and saw Wills, wearing a hoodie, inside his neighbor’s car rummaging through it with a flashlight.
Locke said he walked outside with a loaded handgun to scare Wills, who began walking away in the street. Locke told deputies that Wills shined a flashlight at him and he believed Wills had turned to walk toward him, when he fired a single round that was captured on a brief 911 call. Locke said he believed he shot someone, provided his address and hung up when the dispatcher asked, “Tell me what happened.”
Wills collapsed on the street. “Help me,” he cried, according to the sheriff’s account.
Locke went inside and called 911 again, deputies said. Meanwhile, Wills was able to walk away from the scene. Deputies found him about two-tenths of a mile away in an intersection with a gunshot wound to his back and sent him to a hospital, where he underwent surgery.
Four days later, his mother, Denise Wills, shared a photo of Odaris smiling and a hopeful message to her Facebook friends about his recovery: “Y’all look at God he is good!!!! Giving him the praise and thinking him every minute.” Denise Wills did not return messages and phone calls over several months.
A sheriff’s report said that, based on Locke’s own statement to deputies, Wills “never made overt or hostile actions or statements towards him to put him in a well-founded fear.”
As part of the criminal case against Locke, prosecutors noted that Wills was charged as a juvenile for burglarizing two cars the night of the shooting, and caught carrying a gun on March 14, 2022, in another case that was also prosecuted in juvenile court, where records are routinely sealed. Wills was prosecuted as an adult for his arrest on the gun charge, since he had turned 18 by then.
In a new court filing Thursday, Locke's lawyer asked the judge to consider sentencing him to much less than 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence he could be facing. The filing blamed the shooting on Wills, saying he provoked the incident because he was burglarizing the neighbor's vehicle, and said Locke was "acting under extreme duress," dialed 911 immediately, had cooperated with authorities and regretted the shooting.