ST. TAMMANY PARISH -- It was a crime that stunned and saddened the Slidell community four years ago.
Dozens were out at an Olde Towne club on Christmas Day night, celebrating the holiday. A fight broke out and spilled into the street. Then gunshots rang out.
Twenty-three-year-old Mark Womack and 22-year-old Errol Scott were killed. Six others were hit by bullets.
"It's a painful feeling," said Scott's friend Earvin Darby. "It's not something you can just get over with. Like get over in a couple of hours or a month or a couple of years."
Two days later, police had 22-year-old Jamieon Chatman in custody, charged with two counts of first degree murder and six counts of attempted first degree murder.
But this past Friday, Oct. 13, a plea deal lessened the charges to two manslaughter and five attempted manslaughter. Chatman received a 40 year prison sentence with the possibility of parole.
District Attorney Warren Montgomery said: "The decision to seek the death penalty was made under the previous administration. However, after reviewing the complex set of facts and circumstances in final preparation for trial, I determined that a plea to 40 years was an appropriate resolution."
Chatman's attorney, Ravi Shah, says the deal was struck due to surveillance video evidence showing another person in the crowd waving around a weapon before Chatman fired. That person, according to Shah, was part of a group from Slidell involved in the fight, while his client was part of a group from Covington.
"My client is glad the District Attorney's Office took a closer look and ultimately made a penalty offer that was more in line with the facts instead of a capital murder trial," Shah said.
"Certainly the state's burden to prove guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and the 'Stand Your Ground' doctrine, played a role in my decision," Montgomery said.
Mark Womack's father, Brad, who declined to comment on camera, felt life in prison would have been more appropriate.
"We are very disappointed for many reasons," he said. "The justice system failed us."
Womack also said, "'Stand Your Ground' is being abused by people who shoot into crowds. I don't believe that's what it was intended for."
While Errol Scott's family declined to comment, friend E.J. Walls said, "It's a sad situation all around, nobody wins! But this criminal's family will get to see him, talk to him, hug him! That's something Mark and Ro's friends and families won't ever get and that is why this outcome isn't right!"
But loved ones say they will continue to do their best to honor the men by bringing the community together through positive memorial events in their names, which have resulted in several scholarships and financial support for area youth sports and athletes.
"We have been so impressed with the young men who have stepped forward to honor Mark and the community," Brad Womack said. "We're touched at their effort."
Four others were arrested on accessory after the fact charges for helping Chatman in the hours and days after the crime. All pleaded guilty as charged and received sentences ranging from probation to prison time.
--This story was written in collaboration with Sara Pagones with the New Orleans Advocate-St. Tammany Bureau.
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