State News

Soles pleads guilty to assault charge

Posted February 25, 2010 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated February 25, 2010 11:07 p.m. EST

— State Sen. R.C. Soles pleaded guilty Thursday to assault with a deadly weapon in connection with an August shooting at his Tabor City home.

Soles, D-Columbus, agreed to pay a $1,000 fine for the misdemeanor offense, but he won't serve any jail time.

Although he announced in December that he wouldn't seek re-election this fall, he said Thursday that he doesn't plan to resign before finishing his term of office.

"I’m very glad to have it behind me, as much as it is. I’m sorry it happened. I thought I was in the right,” he said after his court hearing.

Soles, 75, previously admitted to shooting Kyle Blackburn, 22, in the leg, but he had maintained that he acted in self-defense after Blackburn and Billie Wright, 23, kicked at his door.

Blackburn wasn't badly hurt. He and Wright have since been arrested on unrelated drug charges.

The state Attorney General's Office assumed control of the case in September after local prosecutors said their close ties to Soles would preclude them from handling the investigation.

In December, a grand jury found probable cause that Soles acted criminally when he shot Blackburn. A different grand jury returned the indictment in early January.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Jim Coman said Thursday that Soles fired two shots during the incident – one into the air and the second toward the ground, which hit Blackburn.

"Instead of calling law enforcement, which could have addressed the issue for him, unfortunately, he made a bad decision,” Coman said.

Blackburn and Wright, two former legal clients of Soles, asked prosecutors to drop the case, he said.

“Under the circumstances, we felt he couldn’t take the law into his own hands. He had to be held accountable for his actions,” he said.

Soles is North Carolina's longest-serving legislator, having been in the General Assembly for 42 years.

Defense attorney Joe Cheshire said the misdemeanor conviction wouldn't affect his political career or his law license. He said Soles' political position played no role in the plea deal.

Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight expressed disappointment in Soles' position.

"Because he has been my friend for so long, this is a sad day for R.C. Soles and a sad day for me," said Basnight, D-Dare.

Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said Soles' plea is a continuation of legal troubles facing top Democrats in North Carolina.

"If in Brunswick County you can pay $1,000 and shoot people, well I think there is going to be a lot of people lining up to pay that $1,000," Berger's communications director Brent Woodcox said.

Political watchdog Joe Sinsheimer said the August shooting speaks to Soles’ judgment, something voters shouldn’t have to question.

"The people of North Carolina have been short-changed the truth today and that is what is most troubling," Sinsheimer said.