NASHVILLE — An aspiring country artist will get no jail time after twice shooting a man experiencing homelessness five years ago in Nashville.
Before Katie Layne Quackenbush opened fire in the early morning hours of Aug. 26, 2017, she was arguing with Gerald Melton. He had been awakened by exhaust fumes and music from Quackenbush’s Porsche SUV, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department.
Melton later testified that Quackenbush asked him if he “wanted to die tonight.”
Melton said he was walking away from Quackenbush’s vehicle when she drew a gun from her purse, exited the SUV and fired two shots. Quackenbush then drove with a passenger to a Taco Bell before returning home.
Neither Quackenbush nor her passenger initially reported the shooting, police said. Instead, a person who found Melton called for help.
Melton, who was 54 at the time, survived but underwent at least three surgeries due to his injuries.
“This has been the worst experience of my life, but I’m grateful that I had it, because it has changed me so dramatically to the core,” Quackenbush, now 32, said Thursday.
After a two-day trial in April, Quackenbush was convicted of reckless endangerment, which is a misdemeanor.
A judge sentenced her to 11 months and 29 days of probation Thursday morning, ending the controversial yearslong case.
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Quackenbush grew emotional as she made a statement during her hearing Thursday, repeatedly expressing regret for her actions and apologizing to Melton and others affected by the shooting.
Quackenbush also said she has already been punished, in some ways, for what happened.
She said her mugshot went viral online after her arrest. Quackenbush also said she endured public ridicule, was spit on and received death threats. She also found it difficult to find work and get accepted into college. She described it as having “one foot in purgatory and the other in real life.”
“For five years, I’ve been having to live with this … social punishment. Even after all of this is over, Google is always going to be there. This will follow me for the rest of my life.”
Quackenbush spoke about her desire to be there for her four young children, whom she feared would be split up if she went to jail because they all have different fathers.
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“This has inspired me to do better,” she said. “It inspired me to help people who have been in my shoes.”
How the case unfolded
Quackenbush was arrested after the shooting and later indicted on charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Her lawyer, Peter J. Strianse, argued Quackenbush was afraid of Melton and was trying to scare him away. She was ultimately convicted of the lesser charge of reckless endangerment after a two-day trial in April. Quackenbush was free on a $25,000 bond before her Thursday’s sentencing.
During the hearing, Strianse said Quackenbush has worked to better herself in the years since the shooting. She enrolled in college with plans to earn a degree in political science and work her way up at her father’s law firm as a paralegal. .
He asked Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton to consider a probation sentence, as opposed to jail time.
He also asked the judge to consider a judicial diversion. In Tennessee, the measure allows charges to be diverted for an agreed upon amount of time once the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to conditions set by the judge. Charges can be expunged after the time and conditions are met.
Dalton denied the diversion request.
During the sentencing hearing, Assistant District Attorney Amy Hunter emphasized the facts of the case and the seriousness of the shooting, despite the absence of a weapons charge in Quackenbush’s convicted offense.
“She used that weapon to shoot an unarmed man who had only used words against her,” Hunter said.
Hunter also asked Dalton to consider the severity of Melton’s injuries and Quackenbush’s reaction to their argument.
The terms of Quackenbush’s probation work around her residency in Amarillo, Texas, Dalton said. She will periodically report virtually, and her criminal record will also be monitored, a spokesperson for the DA said.
Contributing: Natalie Neysa Alund
Find reporter Rachel Wegner at firstname.lastname@example.org.