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Man sentenced in girlfriend's death

CONYERS -- The man charged with murder in the 2009 shooting of his girlfriend entered a guilty plea Tuesday to a lesser charge and was sentenced to prison.

John Alexander Sprayberry, 48, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and first-degree criminal damage to property after negotiations with the District Attorney's Office.

Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation followed the state's recommendation and sentenced Sprayberry to a total of 20 years, with 15 to be served in confinement.

Before the ruling, Chief Assistant District Attorney Robert Houman explained to the court that Sprayberry was involved in a physical altercation with another man shortly before firing the 9mm gun that killed his 45-year-old girlfriend, Kay Marie LaGrande.

Tuesday's court proceedings explained Sprayberry fired the weapon more than once in the bedroom of the 1225 Ga. Highway 138 residence he and the victim were in.

The District Attorney's Office prepared a case that would have included testimony from a medical examiner who determined LaGrande's gunshot happened in close contact. The DA's evidence indicated that LaGrande attempted to restrain Sprayberry from going after the other man, Sprayberry and the victim both fell, and the gun was discharged.

Sprayberry's attorney, Robert Mumford, pointed to the lack of defensive wounds on the victim and contended there was no evidence of a close struggle.

Nation asked Mumford to explain how the victim was fatally shot.

"She got shot because Mr. Sprayberry was heavily intoxicated and when he picked the gun up, it went off," Mumford said.

Mumford said a bullet went through the bedroom's doorway and struck the victim. Mumford also gave a detailed discussion of the weapon's ballistics and explained the likelihood that a bullet shell ejected back at the shooter.

"It's my belief that, in a drunken condition, when he fired one of the shots that a shell casing came back and actually hit Mr. Sprayberry, and I believe, startled him and caused him to fire another shot," Mumford said.

Alcohol played a critical role, according to Nation.

"Whatever happened happened because he was drunk as a skunk with a gun in his hand," Nation said.

Mumford added that Sprayberry also did everything he could do to save his girlfriend's life after the shooting.

"I have never seen a man more contrite or more devastated by the results of the incidents of that night," Mumford said.

Nation said the shooting was something that didn't need to happen, but the defendant's remorse "doesn't undo the wrong."

"It's a sad, sad case. Both families have been affected," Nation said. "And all the 'I'm sorrys' in the world aren't going to undo it. There's a price to be paid and he's going to pay it."

Sprayberry had been in custody at the Rockdale County Jail since his Jan. 13, 2009, arrest.