Jeremy Stringer and Jamal Whalum pled guilty in front of Judge Prentiss Harrell in circuit court on Monday. Stringer pled guilty to aggravated DUI, which carries a possible sentence of five to 25 years. Whalum pled guilty to sale of a controlled substance within 1,500 feet of a church, sale of a controlled substance within 1,500 feet of a school, tampering with evidence and two counts of introduction of a controlled substance into a correctional facility. Harrell accepted all pleas and explained the process of a jury trial versus a blind plea, which is when the judge can sentence the defendant to any amount of time allowed, and there is no set sentence that goes along with the plea. Harrell told all defendants that he usually follows the recommendations of their lawyers and the District Attorney's office, but he does not have to.
Stringer requested sentencing to be done at a later date when a pre-sentencing hearing could be held. That hearing has been set for Sept. 23 at 9 a.m.
Stringer had a blood alcohol content of .188% on July 12, 2021, when his Chevrolet pickup truck hit 14-year-old Mia Trujillo, who was on a four-wheeler on Pickwick Road. Trujillo died two days later from injuries she sustained in the accident.
Stringer was released until his sentencing. He is not allowed to drive or to leave his home. He told Harrell his family drove him, and he had not had a drop to drink since July 12, 2021. Harrell told Stringer that he had heard good things about him, and that it is a terrible thing how the lives of two families could be destroyed by such an accident.
That sentiment was not shared by Trujillo's mother, Tabitha Taylor.
"It was like a slap in our faces for him to praise our baby's killer. He told him he has heard good things about him and even good people have accidents. If you are drinking and driving, that's not an accident," she said. "We are trying to fill up the courtroom on the 23rd (of September). We will never be satisfied. We can never get Mia back. For him to tell that man those things in front of a grieving family without saying anything about my baby. He might be a good person, but he still killed my baby."
Whalum requested that he be sentenced on the same day as his plea. Harrell sentenced him to eight years for the sale of a controlled substance within 1,500 feet of a church, while the charge of sale of a controlled substance within 1,500 feet of a school was dismissed. Whalum was ordered to pay a fine of $1,000 fine, an assessment of $1,000 to the Public Defender's Fund and all court costs.
He was sentenced to five years on each charge of introduction of a controlled substance into a correctional facility and 10 years for the tampering with evidence charge with five years to be served and five years to be in post-release supervision. All sentences were ordered to run concurrently, which means he will likely serve eight with two more on probation. Whalum's charges could have carried a sentence of up to 32 years.
Among Whalum's charges were the sale of methamphetamine to a Columbia Police Department informant and bringing fentanyl into the Marion County Correctional Facility on Aug. 8.