LINDEN, Texas -- An argument that ended in two shooting deaths has brought a murder conviction for a Cass County man.
Charles Obin Spraberry, 44, pleaded guilty Tuesday to capital murder in the March 11 deaths of John Thomas Jr. and Jennifer Archer. As part of his agreement with the state, he also pleaded guilty to separate charges of assault for strangling a girlfriend earlier this year, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, escape with a deadly weapon and assault on a public servant.
On a recommendation from the Cass County District Attorney's Office, 5th District Judge Bill Miller sentenced Spraberry to life without parole for capital murder; 25 years each for assault and felony possession; 40 years for escape; and 10 years for assault on a public servant.
The other sentences will run consecutively to the murder judgement.
Spraberry was scheduled for arraignment Monday, but the hearing was set for Tuesday because of the plea agreement, District Attorney Courtney Shelton said to the Gazette. Had the case gone to trial, Shelton said the state would have pursued the death penalty.
Thomas and Archer's charred bodies were found in Thomas' burned camper March 11 on County Road 4667 near Bivins, Texas. Spraberry lived in a house on the property.
Thomas and Archer were dating, and their murders followed a long-standing argument between Spraberry and Thomas over one of Thomas' other female friends.
"John Thomas was allowing this girl to keep coming over there, and Spraberry did not want her there," Shelton said. "He went to confront Thomas about it that night. They had a fight, and he shot him."
Shelton said Spraberry alleges that he did not know Archer was in the camper until she screamed from the bedroom after the shooting.
"He goes in and shoots her as well," Shelton said.
After the killings, Spraberry reportedly set the camper ablaze and fled the area. He was arrested several days later in DeRidder, Louisiana, on unrelated charges.
Spraberry was identified as a person of interest early in the murder investigation but was formally charged in October.
"Evidence obtained from cellphone records, forensic evidence, witness statements and Spraberry's own statement to law enforcement are what ultimately led to his arrest," Shelton said to the Gazette in October.
Among Spraberry's statements was the location of the murder weapon, which he hid on the property. The gun, which Shelton said is registered to an unidentified person, provided a missing piece in the investigation.
"There were bullets in both bodies that we were able to submit to the ATF lab along with the gun that we recovered on the property. They ran tests and were able to confirm that those bullets were fired from that gun," she said.
Shelton said Spraberry confessed about a month after his capture following a jail break.
On Aug. 29, Spraberry fled from the Cass County jail in Linden after attacking a male guard with a homemade knife and forcing a female guard to open a door to the outside, according to earlier reports. The male jailer needed three stitches to close the wound to his face.
Caddo Parish deputies captured Spraberry on Aug. 30 near Mooringsport, Louisiana, about 40 miles southeast of Linden. He reportedly was driving a Cadillac SUV he allegedly stole from an unoccupied house near Linden.
Spraberry's assault conviction stemmed from his strangling a girlfriend about a week before the Thomas and Archer murders, Shelton said.
After the sentencing Tuesday, Thomas' sister and one of Archer's children extended forgiveness to Spraberry.
"I don't want the end of my brother's life here on Earth to be remembered as just this horrific act of violence ... but of the grace and mercy I know God, and even Johnny, are up in heaven extending to you," she said. "As hard as it is for my human side to say, my heart forgives you."
Attorney John Delk of Texarkana represented Spraberry and helped to arrange the plea agreement.