KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who shot and killed six people and seriously injured two others in and around Kalamazoo has pleaded guilty to the murders.
In a surprise development Monday, Jason Dalton cut short jury selection by agreeing to plead guilty to all six counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and eight counts of felony use of a firearm he was charged with.
Dalton's attorney, Eusebio Solis, says Dalton decided to plead guilty against his advice to spare his family and the families of the victims the grief of reliving the terrible moments during the trial.
The plea comes a few days after Dalton’s defense attorney said he would not be pursing an insanity defense. Solis said he and his client had been discussing a possible plea for months.
"I've wanted to do this for quite a while," Dalton said.
On Feb. 20, 2016, Dalton shot eight people at three locations over the course of about five hours. The shootings started just before 6 p.m., when Dalton repeatedly shot Tiana Carruthers, then 25, near her Richland Township home as she shielded children from the gunfire. She was seriously injured, but survived.
Over about the next four hours, Dalton picked up fares in his capacity as an Uber driver, though none of them were hurt.
Shortly after 10 p.m., Dalton fatally shot father and son Rich and Tyler Smith as they checked out a vehicle at Seelye Auto Group on Stadium Drive in Kalamazoo. Tyler Smith’s girlfriendescaped the gunman’s notice by hiding in the car.
Mary Lou Nye, Mary Jo Nye, Judy Brown and Barbara Hawthorne were killed in the parking lot of the Texas Township Cracker Barrel as they returned to their vehicles after catching a show at the Miller Auditorium.
Before her death, Hawthorne insisted medical crews first work on 14-year-old Abigail Kopf, who had been shot in the head. The teenager nearly died, but pulled through.
The courtroom was packed Monday, with the left side of the room reserved for victims and their families. Among them was Carruthers, relatives of the Smiths and the owner of the dealership where the father and son died.
The survivors could be seen tearfully holding hands as the judge read each victim's name so Dalton could plead guilty to each charge. When the judge read Carruthers' name, she cried.
“I was surprised to see so much turnout. I haven’t been in direct contact with everybody, but to know that there was still such a big unfortunate family like this surprised me. It made me feel a little good that everybody was willing to reach out to people that they didn’t really even know. I knew the person sitting on my left, but I did not know the person on my right. But they both treated me like I was part of their families," said a relative of one of the victims.
Dalton faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole after he spends as much as 16 years in prison for the eight felony firearm charges. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 5 at 10 a.m.
Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeffrey Getting will hold a news conference regarding Dalton's plea at 1:30 p.m., which you can watch live on woodtv.com and WOOD TV8.
>>App users: Watch Dalton plead guilty here.