LUMBERTON — District Attorney Johnson Britt acknowledges the charge of voluntary manslaughter brought against the person accused of fatally shooting 17-year-old Zachary Meares on Nov. 28 has angered some people, but he says they are either misinformed or poorly informed.
“The armchair quarterbacks out there, one, do not have complete information about the case, and, two, they don’t know the law,” Britt said.
Jason O’Neil Bass, 17, of Lumberton, was charged Monday with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Meares. He was taken to the Robeson County jail and placed under a $20,000 bond, but is walking free after a first appearance in court Tuesday morning.
Bass has been charged as an adult, according to Britt. North Carolina is in the process of raising the age at which someone can be tried as an adult for the commission of a felony from 16 to 18.
“We’re not there yet,” Britt said.
Britt said evidence suggesting the person who shot and killed Meares feared for his life prompted him to recommend charging Bass with voluntary manslaughter.
Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an unlawful killing without malice, Britt said. The killing is either an act of passion or excessive force used in personal defense or the defense of another person. Excessive force can be deadly force used in defense against non-deadly force.
An investigation by the St. Pauls Police Department and the State Bureau of Investigation revealed there was a chase from Lumberton to the shooting site at 902 W. Broad St. in St. Pauls, Britt said. Meares was trying to get a cell phone that belonged to his sister that was possessed by one of the three youths in the truck that she had once dated. That youth was not Bass.
Britt gave the following account of what investigators say happened: Meares got out of the car in which he was a passenger and appeared to argue with the people in a pickup truck. He then tried to force his way into the truck but was unable to do so. He then climbed into the truck’s bed and tried to enter the cab through the back window.
Britt said the driver of the vehicle attempted but failed to dislodge Meares from the truck’s bed. Witnesses said they saw a gun come through the back window and Meares was shot. He was reportedly shot three times in the face.
“The issue is did the people in the truck have enough apprehension that Meares was trying to kill them,” Britt said.
Ultimately, that will be up to a jury to determine, he said.
Bass made his first appearance in Superior Court on Tuesday. Afterward, Bass left the court accompanied by his parents.
“He’s out on bond,” Britt said.
Bass will next appear in Superior Court for a probable cause hearing. State law stipulates that hearing must take place within 15 working days from the initial court appearance. That hearing could happen before Dec. 22 because Robeson County courts will be closed from the afternoon of Dec. 22 until Jan. 2 for the Christmas holiday.
If convicted, Bass faces a sentencing range of 51 to 89 months in prison.
On social media there are plenty of people, including relatives of Meares, who are angry at the charge and that he is walking free. There also is a photograph of Bass making an obscene gesture and saying, “It ain’t what it seemed like nobody knows the story (praying hands) god knows and the FBI knows ya’ll can say what yall want nobody affecting me.”
Below it, there is this post from Candace Jackson, Meares’ sister: “This makes me furious!!!!! This “THUG” didnt know my brother and my brother didnt know him. But he MURDERED my innocent baby brother. He is allowed to walk away on a $20,000 bond after MURDERING my baby brother. What is wrong with our court system???? This trash don’t deserve to be out walking freely!!!!”
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]