Arnett takes plea in murder case

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By Susan Sharp

Robert Brian Arnett could have faced a jury of his peers, attempting to explain his actions of December 1, 2008.

He could have tried to tell the jury his version of what happened in the moments just before he fatally wounded Billy Mardis, Jr.

But he didn’t.

Instead Arnett stood in court on Monday and admitted he was guilty of voluntary manslaughter- a killing that occurs “in a state of passion” under state law.

A simple “yes” was Arnett’s only response when Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton asked him if was pleading guilty because he was in fact guilty.

As the plea hearing continued, Arnett was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for the shooting of Mardis. It had previously been agreed by Arnett and state prosecutors that he would be sentenced as a range three offender, meaning he would serve his time as a persistent criminal offender.

Because of this classification, Arnett will serve a larger percentage of his sentence incarcerated rather than on probation.

Standing at well over six feet tall, Arnett looked straight ahead as his attorney, Michael Debusk and Senior Assistant District Attorney Mike Ripley gave the details of the plea to the court.

Prosecutors acquiesced to allowing Arnett just over 30 days to organize his personal business and have a medical procedure before being formally taken into custody.

Sexton ordered Arnett’s sentence with the Tennessee Department of Corrections to begin on July 27.

“Is there any special supervision needed between now and then,” Sexton asked.

“No, just bail your honor,” Ripley said.

Mardis died two days after Arnett shot him with a .12 gauge shotgun, LaFollette Police said. The shooting, which occurred in the middle of the day on a busy LaFollette street, appeared to have had a domestic motive.

Arnett, Shelia Mardis, the estranged wife of the victim, and a juvenile were at an East Central Avenue home when Arnett and Billy Mardis, Jr. began arguing, police said.

As the quarrel escalated, Arnett emerged from his truck with a shotgun.

“He fired one shot and it struck Mardis in the abdomen,” LPD Det. Jason Henegar, who investigated the shooting, said at the time.

Despite being critically wounded Mardis drove himself two blocks to the local emergency room. He died two days after being transported to a Knoxville trauma center.