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Plowman: Fatal Shooting Was Accidental

Prosecutors dismiss one count of murder, and Matthew Lanthram agrees to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter and six other felonies.

Matthew Lanthram, 17, of Ashburn, has been vindicated of intentionally murdering 15-year-old Donald "Nicholas" Shomaker in March; authorities say the shooting was an accident.

Commonwealth Attorney James Plowman said he will dismiss one count of murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony in exchange for Lanthram's guilty plea to seven felony charges, including involuntary manslaughter and possession of guns, drugs and stolen property. Lanthram has been charged as an adult even though he is not 18.

The Sheriff's Office said the March 22 shooting occurred at the Ashburn home that Lanthram shared with his grandparents. Sheriff's deputies found four guns, a sawed-off shotgun, a half pound of marijuana, a half-pound of psychedelic mushrooms, seven grams of cocaine and $1,700 in cash at the house.

The Sheriff's Office initially charged him with involuntary manslaughter, then raised the charge to murder.

"We weren't convinced it was an accident," Commonwealth Attorney James Plowman said Wednesday, June 9. "I didn't want to paint myself into a corner. But our evidence only rises to manslaughter … an accident."

A GRAND JURY, in concurrence with the plea agreement, is expected July 12 to indict Lanthram on: (1) involuntary manslaughter, (2) possession with intent to distribute marijuana, (3) possession with intent to distribute psychedelic mushrooms, (4) possession of cocaine, (5) possession of a sawed-off shot gun, (6) possession of firearms while in possession of narcotics, and (7) receiving stolen property.

Lanthram waived his right to a preliminary hearing Wednesday, June 9. Juvenile and Domestic Relations Judge Avelina Jacob ruled he was guilty of driving without a license in an unrelated traffic matter. He sat next to his lawyer, Alex Levay, wearing a lime green jail pantsuit with a red T-shirt underneath. Chains hung from his ankles onto black sneakers.

Jacob asked Lanthram whether he understood his right to a hearing and was it his decision to waive that right. His answers were affirmative.

AFTERWARD, Levay said the plea agreement provided recognition that this was an accidental shooting. He handed out a written statement. "Everyone should realize my client has been devastated by the loss of his dear friend. He takes some solace in the determination that this tragic death was an accident. We all pray for Nick and his family."

Jacob granted Levay's motion to keep Lanthram in the juvenile detention center until sentencing. "In a perfect society, a juvenile would never be tried as an adult," the defense lawyer said.

In an interview, Levay said it is legal for children 14 years and older to be sentenced as adults in Virginia. "It is important to note, however, that the Circuit Court can still treat the juvenile as a juvenile in determining what the appropriate disposition should be."

Lanthram's "disposition" or sentence will be determined at a hearing after the grand jury meets.