YORK, S.C. (WCIV) — A South Carolina man will spend life in prison for killing a teenage store clerk he said gave him an unkind look, a shooting carried out with a handgun bought just an hour before the crime.
Christopher Mendez, 29, pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday in a York County court. He apologized to his victim's family and his lawyer asked for the 30-year minimum sentence. But it was the man's confession, played in court, which swayed the judge to side with prosecutors who said he should never be free again.
In that confession, a police officer is heard asking Mendez what he said after unloading all five shots from the .45-caliber pistol at 19-year-old Karson Whitesell in front of several horrified customers at the Peach Stand convenience store in Fort Mill.
"I said, 'See what happens? You thought I was a piece of (expletive), didn't you? Well, guess what? I am," Mendez told detectives hours after the killing.
Earlier, Mendez told police Whitesell had given him an "unkind look" when he first entered the store on Jan. 23, so he returned to his car and got the gun, prosecutor Willy Thompson said.
Prosecutors and Whitesell's family said that characterization of Whitesell was far from the truth because she befriended everyone she could all through school and loved her family.
Her mother said her daughter's phone number was her top favorite on her cellphone when she was alive and remains there today, even though she knows they can no longer text each other funny jokes or have daily conversations.
"Each time that realization hits, my heart breaks a little further," said Debbie Harrison, who went over and comforted Mendez's crying mother while the judge considered the sentence.
Mendez bought the gun an hour before the killing at a sporting goods store 5 miles (8 kilometers) away. He lied on a form, checking a box that he had never been treated for a mental illness, Solicitor Kevin Brackett said.
Mendez's lawyer and father said the defendant had mental problems that plagued him throughout his life, but they were not enough to keep him from being declared competent to stand trial.
Mendez read an apology to his family and Whitesell's family just before he was sentenced.
"I don't know if there are words that I could say that could help you. If there are, I don't feel very confident of being very sure of what they are," Mendez said. "But what I do know is that I wish I hadn't done what I did. I wish I would have had a better mind at the time and with it had thought of a way to actually try to resolve my personal issues."
It was much different from the remorseless voice prosecutors played in his confession.
A detective asked him what he felt seeing Whitesell dead.
"She looked innocent laying on the floor. She looked beautiful. She had her whole life ahead of her probably," Mendez said.
Mendez then talked about watching movies and documentaries about soldiers and criminals who kill people and how after the shooting he didn't feel the way he thought he would feel.
"I didn't feel bad. I was weird," Mendez said in his confession. "I thought I was going to be more tormented about it."