LUMBERTON — The family of a 17-year-old who was shot to death last week is asking the district attorney to reconsider his decision to charge the alleged shooter with voluntary manslaughter and to bring tougher charges.
The Robesonian on Wednesday received a 389-word email from Christina Meares, the aunt of Zachary Meares, who was killed on Nov. 28 when he was shot in St. Pauls, expressing the family’s unhappiness. According to police and District Attorney Johnson Britt, Meares was killed following a dispute over a cell phone.
Meares, whose funeral was Saturday, is survived by his parents, a brother and two sisters.
Jason O’Neil Bass, 17, of Lumberton, is charged in his death. He is free on $20,000 bail.
Although just 17, Bass has been charged as an adult. If convicted, he faces 51 to 89 months in prison.
Lawmen have not ruled out charges against two youths who were with Bass when Meares was killed. They have not been publicly identified.
Britt decided on voluntary manslaughter after consulting with the State Bureau of Investigation and St. Pauls police. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an unlawful killing without malice. The killing is either an act of passion or excessive force used in personal defense or the defense of another person.
In announcing his decision. Britt acknowledged it would upset some people.
“The armchair quarterbacks out there, one, do not have complete information about the case, and, two, they don’t know the law,” Britt said.
The email said in part: “How would you feel Johnson Britt if it were your son or nephew? Johnson Britt and his family members would do the same for their children. They would all be armchair quarterbacks as well. … So please sir see that justice is served and finish your term with justice and integrity.
“We do indeed know the law and just want justice. I pray that our justice system will do what is right and that you sir do what is right and just. We aren’t angry with you. The family as I said earlier just wants justice for Zachary … .”
Britt has said evidence suggesting the person who shot and killed Meares feared for his life prompted him to recommend charging Bass with voluntary manslaughter.
An investigation revealed there was a high-speed chase from Lumberton to the shooting site at 902 W. Broad St. in St. Pauls. 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 said 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 climbed into the truck’s bed and tried to enter the cab through the back window. That is when he was shot, reportedly three times in the face.
“We as family aren’t saying Zachary was perfect,” the email said. “But he didn’t have a gun or any weapon. He doesn’t deserve what is happening to him. God will prevail over this.
“What did happen was murder and was intended to take him out. Shot multiple times, not once just because someone wanted to stop him from harming them. The shooter could have stopped at one shot, but continued to shoot to kill. The manner of how Jason Bass shot him answers a lot. Why not a foot or a hand, did it have to be in the face and in the head?”
Britt has pointed out that it will be up to a judge or jury to decide Bass’ fate.
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, which was Tuesday.
Meares was a former student at Lumberton High School, where he played baseball as a freshman and sophomore, but more recently he was being home-schooled. There have been multiple tributes to him on social media — as well as anger at the charges against Bass.
“Zachary was a beautiful soul who would have given you the shirt off his back,” the email said. “He was full of life, love, and compassion for others. I know my nephew. If he would have wanted to harm those young men illegally I’m sure he could have; however, he didn’t.”
The email also asked Johnson Britt and the SBI to “please release the evidence and surveillance videos to the family or allow them to be involved.”
The email also addressed the broader problem of violence among young people.
“We as the human race must join together and teach our younger generation,” it said. “Stop the the illegal gun violence. I challenge all parents to take the time to talk with your young teenagers and adults about the seriousness of life and how it can’t be given back once it is taken.”
Reach Donnie Douglas by calling 910-416-5649 or via email at [email protected]