A Pine Bluff teen pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Monday in an on-campus shooting death of a Watson Chapel Junior High School classmate two years ago.
Thomas Quarles, who was 15 at the time of the March 1, 2021, shooting of Daylon Burnett, 15, entered the plea before Judge Jodi Raines Dennis in 11th District West Circuit Court, and has been sentenced to 40 years in state prison. Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter announced the plea and sentence in a news release.
Quarles had faced the possibility of life in prison or the death penalty on a capital murder charge if he were to plead innocent and then be convicted. The case was set for trial starting June 1.
"It was a horrible event for the whole community and that school and the family of Daylon Burnett," Hunter told the Commercial. "I'm happy to have it resolved for 40 years on first-degree murder. The mother of the victim was very satisfied with that resolution.
"What they had to endure has been horrible. When you send them to school, you expect them to be safe. Then this happened. Substantial conviction and sentence."
Burnett died two days after the shooting at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. Bail was set at $1 million for Quarles, but it was revoked following Burnett's death, and a first-degree battery charge was upgraded to capital murder. Despite Quarles' age, prosecutors sought to try him as an adult.
According to an affidavit, police officers responded to the shooting just before 10 a.m. and were directed to the site of the incident, a hallway near the school library.
Officers found two .380-caliber casings next to Burnett and then cleared the school in search of the gunman, who was identified by another student.
Authorities searched for Quarles on foot, and he was arrested near a home in the vicinity of campus on Sulphur Springs Road.
A motion hearing in the case was scheduled for Monday, but both prosecuting and defense attorneys say the defendant entered his plea before the motions could be heard.
"Ultimately our position was, Mr. Quarles' reason for what he was doing was more justified than the law of self-defense would allow," said Bobby Digby, Quarles' attorney. "There had been threats through third parties and on Instagram regarding Mr. Quarles. Ultimately Mr. Quarles was willing to accept responsibility for his actions and accepts the state's offer for what he did."
Digby added Quarles was "very remorseful" for the murder.
"He understood his mistakes and the difference between morality and legality," Digby said.