JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- The man police say confessed to robbing and killing the owner of a gas station in Jeffersonville last fall has pleaded guilty to murder.
Antonio McRae was charged with murder, armed robbery, and murder while committing an armed robbery, after Praful Patel was killed during a robbery inside the Stop & Go gas station and convenience store on Allison Lane on Oct. 11, 2018.
Patel, who ran the business with his family, was well-known in the community. Nearly 100 people attended a prayer vigil two days after the murder, leaving flowers, candles and balloons to honor the 49-year-old father.
On Thursday McRae pleaded guilty to murder while committing an armed robbery. Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull says a conviction less than six months into a murder case is unusual, but he agreed to drop two charges and accept McRae's guilty plea so McRae can't change his mind.
"Sometimes individuals will enter court, plead guilty, and then change their mind and file motions to withdraw," Mull said. "And then the families of the victim have to go through this uncertainty. So I was intent today in having that judgment entered, so the family has closure. They know that it's done, and it's only a matter of what the sentence will be."
McRae was silent on his way into court Thursday morning, where Praful Patel's family was waiting to hear his guilty plea.
Patel was shot and killed during a robbery at his Stop & Go on Allison Lane in Jeffersonville in October.
Although McRae told reporters he turned himself in because of a guilty conscience, Jeffersonville Police say a tip from the community led to his arrest in late December. They found him at his Beech Grove apartment, less than a half-mile away from the gas station on Allison Lane. After his arrest, detectives say McRae confessed to the murder in an interview with police.
McRae told reporters during a court appearance in late December that he didn't plan to shoot Patel.
"The only thing I can say is I'm really -- I'm sorry that that happened," McRae told reporters outside the Clark County courtroom. "It was not intended to happen. I ... did not go in there intending to harm Mr. Patel at all."
McRae said the gun fired when Patel tried to grab it. "That's how it happened. I didn't pull the trigger intentionally."
The charge McRae pleaded guilty to carries the same penalty as the murder charge that was dropped -- 45-65 years in prison. Mull says he plans to argue for the maximum sentence, but it's up the judge's discretion. McRae has the right to appeal the sentence.
Formal sentencing for McRae is scheduled for Aug. 15.
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