A Wagener man was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty on Tuesday to the shooting death of a Lexington woman late last year that resulted from a drug deal gone bad.

Ricardo Levon Williams, 32, was charged with the murder of 25-year-old Kerry Eck, but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. He also pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Donald Hocker to 23 years in prison.

Eck lived in Lexington, but she and a friend drove to Wagener on the night of Sept. 12, 2013, to purchase a narcotic called “Molly,” which is a mixture of ecstasy and other drugs, according to Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. The dealer they planned to meet and purchase the drugs from was Williams, the “on again, off again” boyfriend of Eck's friend.

“At some point during the evening, some of these drugs were consumed, and a verbal altercation between Williams and these two women turned into a physical altercation,” Thurmond said.

“It culminated with a brief struggle over a gun produced by Mr. Williams. The gun was discharged, shooting and killing Ms. Eck, who died instantly.”

Eck was shot while in the front seat of her vehicle, Thurmond said. Williams placed her in the backseat and then fled the scene in her vehicle. He abandoned the vehicle a short distance down the road, then disposed of the gun and the clothes he had been wearing.

“Shortly after midnight, he called the Sheriff's Office and advised that he'd accidentally shot somebody and wished to turn himself in,” Thurmond said.

Eck's friend corroborated the story about the physical altercation.

“There was a brief struggle over this gun that she describes as the victim swatting at the gun,” Thurmond said. “At that point, the gun was discharged.”

Williams faced up to 30 years in prison. Eck's brother, boyfriend and mother spoke before sentencing.

“Kerry's favorite words were 'I love you,'” Carol Porth said of her daughter. “My heart will be broken forever.”

Porth told the court Williams gave their entire family, including Eck's three children, a “life sentence.” She asked for the maximum sentence for Williams.

Assistant Public Defender Dave Hayes said Williams has shown remorse since the incident and asked Hocker to consider a sentence of 10 to 20 years. Williams apologized to Eck's family.

“I can't begin to imagine what it's done to them. I'm sorry,” he told the court. “I know that's not even the beginning of anything. It wasn't intentional.”

Hocker called the shooting a “senseless tragedy.”

“He elected to take ownership of this tragedy,” Hocker said. “Regardless of what I do, it's not gonna bring her back.”

Teddy Kulmala covers the crime and courts beat for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since August 2012.