Ex-Fresno State player Pettis gets life for murder

Updated: July 12, 2006, 10:51 AM ET
Associated Press

FRESNO, Calif. -- Former Fresno State basketball player Terry Pettis was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole for murdering a teenage woman in a botched drug robbery.

The sentence was handed down in Fresno County Superior Court after a series of emotional speeches by Pettis, his father and the family of the victim, 18-year-old Rene Shannon Abbott.

Pettis, 21, was convicted May 26 of first-degree murder and armed robbery.

According to court testimony, Abbott, a Fresno City College student, sat in the driver's seat of her car as her boyfriend, Kent Wolf, and Michael Tunnell negotiated the sale of an ounce of marijuana.

Witnesses including Wolf and Tunnell said Pettis shoved a handgun through the open driver's window and demanded the drugs. Wolf told Abbott to drive away. As the car jerked backward, a bullet was fired through Abbott's head and became lodged in Wolf's thigh.

Police arrived to find Abbott fatally wounded. Wolf has recovered from his injuries.

Pettis' attorney Michael Castro claimed the case was one of mistaken identity and that Pettis didn't pull the trigger.

Prosecutor Jon Skiles had told jurors that witnesses placed Pettis on the scene of the crime that day, and that legally it was irrelevant whether he had meant to fire the gun.

Pettis, who did not take the stand during his trial, broke his silence at the sentencing hearing.

"I can't imagine what they are going through," Pettis said about the Abbott family. "But taking my life away is only doubling the punishment."

Pettis scored 1,600 points in his prep career while helping Minneapolis Henry win three consecutive state championships. But he dropped out of Fresno State shortly before the April 2004 shooting, after a series of run-ins with the law that ended his basketball career at the college.

Pettis' father, Michael Tate, asked Judge Kent Hamlin to allow his son to serve his sentence in a Minnesota prison. The judge said he would recommend the request be granted.

"The reason for this request is the expense on our family is more than we can bear," Tate said. "Also, the fact that his mental adjustment and ours would be hard on him and us being so far away from family."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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