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Lawmaker, 75, avoids jail sentence in misdemeanor (with video)

N.C. Sen. R.C. Soles Jr., the state's longest-serving lawmaker, pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to misdemeanor assault with a deadly weapon in a shooting at his home Aug. 23, but did not get a jail sentence.

Soles, 75, was indicted by a Columbus County, N.C., grand jury in January for assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.

His plea agreement Thursday allows him to avoid a possible prison term and the loss of his license to practice law.

Kyle Blackburn and B.J. Wright, the two men who broke into the senator's home, gave the attorney general's office affidavits of the incident and asked the state not to prosecute.

The N.C. Department of Justice did not answer an e-mail Thursday asking why the case was prosecuted.

Columbus County Judge D. Jack Hooks Jr. fined Soles $1,000 plus court costs. Hooks originally sentenced Soles to 60 days in jail, suspended upon payment of the fine.

Hooks then refined his ruling after a brief conference with lawyers for Soles and the N.C. attorney general's office, which prosecuted the case.

The hearing lasted about 20 minutes and attracted few people other than media from the N.C. Triangle area to the southeast coast.

The shooting occurred late on a Sunday afternoon at Soles' home just outside Tabor City, N.C., Senior Deputy Attorney General James Coman told Hooks in a synopsis of the incident. He said Blackburn, who was ultimately shot in the leg, and Wright breached a gate at Soles' home in Wright's sports utility vehicle. A female companion of one of the men, both former clients of Soles, was with them.

Once on the property, Coman said the two men beat on doors and windows trying to get Soles to come to the door. When he didn't, Coman said the group went to a dock on a lake adjoining the senator's property and drank some alcohol. They were on the property about an hour.

After they left the dock, Coman said they went back to the house, still trying to get Soles' attention.

At one point, Coman said, a video surveillance camera caught Wright charging a door and kicking at it three times. One of the kicks apparently dislodged a safety bar on the door.

"Unbeknownst to [Soles]," Coman said, "they had started to walk away."

Soles opened the door and fired twice, the first going into the air and the second shot hitting Blackburn in a leg, Coman said. Blackburn was treated and released at Loris Community Hospital.

Coman said Soles did not call the police until after the shooting because he hoped the intruders would leave.

"Unfortunately, he made a bad decision," he said.

Soles, 75, has maintained his innocence since the shooting and said Thursday he was happy to have the matter behind him.

He said he decided to accept a plea bargain because it would save the community and his family from further publicity. Soles is still under investigation by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation for a sexual allegation charge that was leveled against him by Stacey Scott, who recanted the charge just days later. Scott had said Soles tried to touch him inappropriately 15 years earlier.

Soles has been in the N.C. General Assembly for more than 40 years. He is not seeking re-election this year, but the lawmaker's routine clearly is still in his blood.

"My gut feeling says go to the board of elections" to file for re-election, he said in brief comments after the hearing, "but I'm not going to."

Soles is known by some in Columbus County for his generosity and is thought of fondly by many there who know him.

"I still think a man has a right to protect his property," said Bob Henson of Whiteville, one of just a few courtroom observers not with the media. Henson, 78, said he has known Soles all his life.

As far as the sexual allegations against Soles, Henson said he believes a man is innocent until proven guilty.