An Amherst County man pleaded guilty Friday to murder and other charges from a shooting nearly two years ago that killed a man who served as a father figure and mentor to him.
Carson Grey Candler, 20, who previously was scheduled for a jury trial later this month, also pleaded guilty in Amherst Circuit Court to aggravated malicious wounding and using a firearm in a felony. His charges stem from a Nov. 16, 2019, shooting that left 43-year-old Justin Samuels dead and Blakeman “Bru” Norconk seriously wounded.
In exchange for his guilty pleas, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Amber Drumheller reduced a first-degree murder charge to second-degree murder and dropped a second firearms charge. That lifts three years of mandatory minimum time off Candler’s sentence and reduces the murder sentencing range to anywhere between five and 40 years, taking off any prospect of a life sentence.
Candler had accompanied Samuels and others on a hunting trip that day, followed by a get-together where Candler’s behavior quickly took a downturn, according to attorneys. Samuels and his wife had moved next door to Candler’s family on Canodys Store Road five years prior, and Candler immediately became attached to Samuels, who taught him life skills and mentored him.
In a recording of a law enforcement interview shortly after the shooting, which was played in court Friday, Candler can be heard saying he was closer to Samuels than to his father, who died in 2018.
After hunting, Candler helped Norconk clean oysters at the evening get-together, but then Norconk became preoccupied with food prep, according to a summary of evidence from Drumheller. Other evidence and testimony indicated Candler appeared to quickly get drunk that night.
At one point, Samuels handed Norconk a loaded gun Candler had on him and told Norconk they needed to leave, Drumheller said, so the group drove back to Samuels’ house. There, they began talking in the driveway, which started out peacefully but suddenly devolved when the older men said they were keeping Candler’s gun from him.
Candler then began yelling and cursing at the men, telling them how the gun had “bodies on it,” talking about the violent street gang MS-13 and protecting his mother, according to Drumheller. Norconk, Samuels and Candler’s mother, who’d emerged from the house, all tried to talk him down.
Whereas Candler stormed into his mother’s house, he emerged later with a much calmer demeanor and with a gun tucked into his waistband, Drumheller said.
“’You think you’re a soldier,’” she quoted Candler as saying to Norconk. “You’re going to see what I can do.”
Candler then took a couple of steps back, pulled out the gun and shot at Norconk, hitting him twice in the torso, she said. Norconk lost consciousness; when he came to, he yelled out for Samuels but heard no response, then crawled to his truck to call 911, periodically blacking out along the way.
Samuels was shot with three bullets to the shoulder and chest that killed him, Drumheller said, while Norconk had to receive 12 surgeries for his injuries and has suffered permanent nerve damage.
Norconk said in a previous hearing he and Samuels had been friends for 20 years.
Chuck Felmlee, Candler’s defense attorney, agreed with Drumheller’s presentation of evidence and spoke further about his client’s state of mind at the time.
Candler had been diagnosed with several mental health issues and had occasionally been in inpatient psychiatric treatment as a teen, Felmlee said. Three days before the shooting, a close friend of Candler’s had killed himself, sending Candler into a downward spiral, he said.
Candler’s mother had asked for Samuels to take Candler hunting to get him out of the house, Felmlee said, and Samuels’ wife kept Candler’s mother posted on the deteriorating situation that night, including warning her to hide any weapons in the house. In the recorded interview with investigators, Candler can be heard saying he found the hidden gun when he went inside.
After the shooting, Felmlee said, his client called 911 when directed by his mother and waited at the house for law enforcement to arrive.
Amherst Circuit Judge Michael Garrett found Candler guilty of three charges Friday. Candler’s scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 17.