Deal or no deal: Plea bargain could be offered to man accused of gunning down stepfather

Deal or no deal: Plea bargain could be offered to man accused of gunning down stepfather

Prosecutor, defense attorney have combative words during hearing and chastised by judge
A plea deal potentially could be reached in the case of a man accused of shooting his stepfather to death almost a year ago. Michael Allen Tharp, 41, is charged with two counts of capital murder in connection with the death of Joseph Hendley. The shooting occurred in December, 2012.

Though only one victim, Alabama law allows two separate charges to be filed---one for capital murder while committing a burglary and the other for capital murder while committing a robbery. Each is potentially punishable by the death penalty.

Defense attorney Joey Sheffield said during a hearing Tuesday that he might be receptive to a plea bargain.“If there is a reasonable offer made we would be glad to listen,” Sheffield said. Houston County District Attorney Douglas Albert Valeska said he’d be glad to talk about a deal but, other than death, the only other alternative he’d consider is life in prison without the possibility of parole. The veteran prosecutor indicated he would consult with Hendley’s family before making an offer.

“He (Tharp) was acting irrationally (at the time of the crime),” Sheffield said. “We’ve hired experts to investigate and they have to review records. It may be 18 months before we’re ready to go to trial,” he said. Tharp has entered pleas of not guilty by reason of mental defect.

Tharp is accused of going to Hendley's home in Cowarts where the two are believed to have become involved in an argument regarding money that Tharp wanted his father in law to give him. Family members say Tharp was intoxicated at the time. He was arrested two days later in Baldwin County after investigators received a tip Tharp was headed to a truck stop in Loxley.

Relatives of Tharp told WDHN News the day following the shooting he confessed telling them "I just killed that (explicative omitted).” Hendley was 68.

Valeska and Sheffield were both reprimanded twice for comments of a personal nature made to each other during the hearing. Circuit Judge Kevin Moulton initially told the men such comments should be made outside the courtroom. “Take it out there,” the judge said, pointing to the hallway.

Sheffield and Valeska later exchanged more harsh words unrelated to the case. Both men were summoned before the bench and chastised by Moulton. "Both of you are seasoned veteran attorneys and that kind of conduct is not permissible," the judge said. Sheffield and Valeska apologized.

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