A Clovis man who told police his girlfriend committed suicide in the couple's home pleaded guilty Wednesday to manslaughter in connection with the woman's shooting death three years ago.
Charles Theodore Rector, 55, entered the plea on the eve of his Fresno County Superior Court trial and after prosecutors dropped a murder charge against him for killing Christine Baker, 44.
In exchange for his plea, he faces 21 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 2.
Had Rector been convicted of murder, he would have faced as much as 40 years to life in prison, said attorney Kathy Marousek, who represents Rector.
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Until his sentencing hearing, Rector will remain in Fresno County Jail, where he has been locked up since the deadly shooting in April 2011.
The shooting happened around 8:30 p.m. April 16, 2011, at an apartment on the 200 block of West Bullard Avenue, east of Highway 168 in Clovis. Police said Rector called 911 and told dispatchers he and his girlfriend had gotten into an argument and his girlfriend had shot herself. When officers arrived, Rector was outside the apartment with his grandson.
Baker was found inside the apartment with a bullet wound to her head. She was transported to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, where she died.
"It was a horrible accident," Marousek said Wednesday after Rector pleaded guilty.
Rector was upset because Baker was smoking marijuana in front of his grandson, Marousek said. He meant to shoot a gun into the apartment's ceiling to scare her, but it went off early, she said.
Prosecutors agreed to the lesser charge, Marousek said, because Rector has no criminal history and no prior domestic violence allegations against him. Before the shooting, he was an active churchgoer and did missionary work in Mexico, she said.
Once he was arrested, he cooperated with police, Marousek said.
"He's extremely remorseful," Marousek said. "He didn't mean to kill her. He loved her."