by Sam Levin
Update below: The family of shooting victim Matthew Pellegrini received surprising news this morning when a St. Louis circuit judge rejected a plea deal that would have given the shooter seven years.
This rejection, which is generally pretty rare, comes one week after seven different family members offered testimony begging St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Edward Sweeney to consider a harsh sentence for Kevin Beindorff, the 22-year-old accused of shooting Pellegrini, eighteen at the time, point-blank in the head.
The shooting last February got national attention due to Beindorff's statement to police that his friend Pellegrini "asked to be shot," prompting him to point the gun at him inside a car and fire the fatal bullet.
This latest twist in the case has given new hope to the family, which had slammed the plea deal between Beindorff and the St. Louis prosecutors.
"We want justice," Tami Inkley, Pellegrini's mother, tells Daily RFT. "Seven years is not justice."
Inkley says that she and her relatives made a strong case in their testimony last week.
"I believe that my family's statement had a great impact on Judge Sweeney," she says.
The grieving family has been very critical of the St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce for crafting and accepting a plea deal that they felt was inadequate. Through that deal, Beindorff admitted to involuntary manslaughter.
"They wanted to just sweep this under the rug and move on...just another shooting in St. Louis city," Inkley says. "This time, they messed with the wrong family."
Continue for more of our interview with Tami Inkley and relevant documents in the case.
Since the plea agreement was signed, Joyce has twice issued statements saying that she is very sympathetic to the family's suffering and that this is a rare occasion in which the prosecutors and victim's family do not agree on the best course of action.
The case next heads to Judge Bryan Hettenbach for a May 7 plea hearing in which Beindorff's attorneys could accept a similar plea agreement to the one Sweeney rejected today or the judge could offer him a different sentence that the defendant could then accept or decline. (Editor's note: This has been updated with new details from the Circuit Attorney's Office).
Inkley says that this gives Joyce a chance to live up to her statements of sympathy and ensure justice this time around.
"Now it's back in her hands," she says. And given that this kind of rejection is unusual, she adds, "We are feeling hopeful."
Daily RFT left a message with Beindorff's public defender, who has generally not commented in the ongoing trial. We'll update if we hear back.
Update, 2:25 p.m.: Susan Ryan, spokeswoman for the Circuit Attorney's office tells us, "We respect Judge Sweeney's decision and we will move the case onward in front of Judge [Bryan] Hettenbach."
Here's Joyce'srecent statement on the case followed by the plea deal rejected today and some of the family's formal impact statements.