More than a year after police discovered the beaten bodies of a couple inside their Lincolnton home, the man charged with killing them has pleaded guilty.
Judge Forrest Bridges handed down a hefty sentence Friday afternoon to 44-year-old Wilbert Lester Fair inside a Lincoln County Superior courtroom.
Fair, initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the case, accepted a plea deal for two counts of second-degree murder.
Bridges sentenced Fair to two consecutive terms of 251 to 314 months in prison but said the defendant would receive credit for the 408 days he had already served in the Harven A. Crouse Detention Center.
According to prosecutors, the defendant used a hammer and his bare hands to kill 53-year-old Bonnie Sue Vincent and her 58-year-old husband Michael Paul Vincent on July 24, 2012, during an argument over cocaine.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Miller rehashed the murder details to the courtroom Friday as several family members of both Fair and the victims sat and listened.
Fair leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as Miller spoke. He shifted uneasily in his seat at times and hung his head.
Michael Vincent’s mother, Marie Fox, 81, addressed Fair before receiving his sentence.
Fox told the defendant she would never be able to forgive him but that she hoped his family would find “peace” — the same peace her son told her he had found just weeks before his death, she said.
Fox also noted how both she and Fair’s family “lost a son” the day of the double homicide.
“I can’t put into words what it’s like to lose a child,” she said.
During the course of the investigation, Fair admitted to Lincolnton Police that he knew the Vincents and often smoked marijuana with them, Miller said.
On the day the victims died, Miller said Fair’s friend, Steven Michaels, told detectives the defendant stopped by his house and asked to borrow a hammer before walking towards Massapoag Road, located near the Vincents’ Broome Street residence.
At the time, Fair had been under the influence of cocaine, prosecutors revealed.
Michaels told police Fair later returned with the neck of his shirt stretched out but no blood or other identifiable injuries on him.
Prosecutors said Michaels later came forward after hearing details of the murder in the community and admitted to police he had lent his hammer to Fair that day.
According to Hickory Defense Attorney Victoria Jayne, Fair had not gone to the victims’ home to hurt them, but that during an altercation over drugs, Bonnie Vincent “came at him,” prompting the defendant to react and injure her.
Michael Vincent later “came at” Fair, too, Jayne said. The defendant told her he had no idea the couple was dead when he left the house.
Two days later, a friend of the Vincents, Justin Hester, located the bodies and called 911, police said.
Without air conditioning inside the home, the summer heat greatly decomposed the bodies, which were sent to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Chapel Hill.
The following day results revealed that both victims had died from blunt force trauma to the head, prosecutors said.
Nearly a week after the bodies were found, police charged Fair in the case.
During Friday’s hearing, the defense explained how the traumatic events of the defendant’s childhood affected his mental state and ability to properly reason.
Jayne pointed out how Fair’s mother had drunk heavily during pregnancy and taught her son to steal while he was growing up. His mother later succumbed to alcohol and drugs and died at an early age, Jayne said.
Fair consented before the judge that he was both aware of the charges filed against him and his personal decision to enter into a plea agreement.
Lieutenant Brian Greene of the Lincolnton Police Department, who headed the investigation, praised the patrol division’s unity in working the case, which officers spent “thousands of hours” on, he said.
He also offered his condolences to the Vincents’ family for their losses.
“Our thoughts and hearts go out to the family,” Greene said.
Fair gave a similar statement in court.
“I apologize for it,” he said repetitively, facing Fox and other members of the victims’ family.
Under current North Carolina law, Fair has no possibility of parole, Bridges said.
He noted the defendant would be nearly 86 years old before being eligible for release.