Second suspect in Bentley murder pleads guilty

Monday, April 6, 2009 | 4:38 p.m. CDT; updated 11:49 a.m. CST, Tuesday, November 3, 2009

COLUMBIA — The second of the five suspects charged in connection with the June 2008 shooting death of Nathaniel Bentley pleaded guilty in Boone County Circuit Court on Friday.

Michael J. Jaco, 18, pleaded guilty to an amended charge of first-degree robbery as part of a plea agreement with the Boone County Prosecutor's Office.

If Jaco testifies against the three remaining defendants, additional charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action currently filed against him will be dropped, Assistant Prosecutor Richard Hicks said.

Malcolm Washington, 26; Denzell Smith, 18; and Damon Williams, 24, are also charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action in connection with Bentley's death. Williams was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the charge was reduced to second-degree murder in March.

Quillan Jacobs, 17, pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery in a separate plea agreement in March, according to Missouri and previous Missourian reporting. He was originally charged with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and armed criminal action.

Hicks said Jaco’s attorney, Stephen Wyse, contacted him Friday morning and said Jaco wanted to plead guilty. Wyse declined to comment on the reason why Jaco changed his plea.

Jaco had the option to plead guilty to either the murder charge or the robbery charge, Hicks said. Both charges are Class A felonies, carrying a punishment of 10 years to life in prison. Hicks said he will recommend Jaco serve a 20-year sentence contingent upon completion of the plea agreement.

Jaco, Williams and Washington allegedly forced their way into Bentley's Pimlico Drive duplex in search of drugs and cash, according to a probable cause statement filed with the court. Smith and Jacobs waited outside the residence in their car, the statement said.

Bentley was in his upstairs bedroom when at least one of the suspects entered the room. Witnesses told police they heard a gunshot before the suspects left with an Xbox game system, two purses and at least one cell phone, the statement said.

Bentley was transported to a hospital with a gunshot wound to the head. He was later pronounced dead.

Jaco’s trial was scheduled to begin April 7. His final sentencing hearing is June 1.

Washington's trial is scheduled for April 28, while Williams' trial is scheduled for July 28. Smith's trial date is pending.

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