William Ronald Pulliam pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Monday for his role in the death of 15-year-old James Harvey Means almost three years ago.
While Pulliam entered his plea and waived his rights to a trial, Means’ relatives quietly expressed their grief and shed tears in the courtroom.
Monday was to be the first day of Pulliam’s trial. Instead of a trial, his attorneys and Kanawha County prosecutors spent the morning negotiating the terms of Pulliam’s plea deal.
Per the terms of the deal, prosecutors will recommend that Pulliam be sentenced to 20 years in prison. They also will recommend that he serve his sentence for murder at the same time he serves his to-be-determined sentence on two federal gun charges pending in the U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia.
The plea deal for Pulliam, 65, isn’t binding, which means Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King could sentence him to between 10 and 40 years in prison, as prescribed by state law.
King did not schedule a sentencing hearing for Pulliam on Monday. The judge said he would schedule it after a probation officer completes a pre-sentence report on Pulliam.
At one point during Monday’s hearing, King asked Pulliam if he understood that he was waiving certain rights and whether there was anything the judge could do to change his mind.
“Not that I can think of, unless you have a better deal,” Pulliam said with a slight laugh.
Up to that point, Means’ mother, Nafai Adkins, had silently shaken her head at Pulliam’s statements. When she heard Pulliam’s joke, though, she put her head in her hands and began to cry.
After the hearing, Adkins expressed her grief and frustration, saying she’d hoped the case would go to trial, but she declined to speak with local news media on the record.
“We’ve had to wait three years for this,” Adkins told a public broadcasting reporter.
Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Miller and Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris handled the case. Morris said he met with Adkins and other members of Means’ family for a few hours last week for what they had anticipated would be a trial.
Morris told King the plea deal is beneficial for the state because of concerns that a jury might have acquitted Pulliam after hearing evidence that one of the teenagers brandished a BB gun during a verbal altercation preceding Means’ death.
Morris said there was grainy video evidence that shows the shooting. He said the video depicts Pulliam shooting Means once and Means turning away before Pulliam shoots him a second time.
Pulliam initially was charged with first-degree murder following two arguments with Means on Nov. 21, 2016.
The trial was delayed several times as Pulliam changed attorneys and was deemed incompetent to stand trial in May 2018.
In December 2018, King ruled that Pulliam was competent to stand trial after receiving treatment at William Sharpe Jr. Hospital, in Weston.
After he was indicted in Kanawha County, a federal grand jury indicted Pulliam in February 2017 on one count of unlawful transport of a firearm and one count of knowingly making a false statement with respect to firearms records.
Pulliam is accused of lying on federal forms to purchase a .380 revolver from Gander Mountain in July 2016, according to the indictment. The unlawful-transport charge stemmed from the day he took possession of the gun, in August 2016, three months before he killed Means.
Pulliam wasn’t allowed to own a firearm because of a 2013 domestic violence conviction in Kanawha Magistrate Court.
Pulliam and Means bumped into each other while walking on the sidewalk along Washington Street East that November night.
“There are conflicts about what actually was said,” Morris said, “but there were some words exchanged.”
The two went their separate ways, with Means and some friends sitting on a porch at a nearby house and Pulliam going to the nearby Dollar General.
When Pulliam left the Dollar General, he and Means, this time with his friends, again had an argument.
After Means walked across Washington Street, Pulliam shot Means twice. He died shortly after arrival at Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Hospital.
In the weeks after Means’ death, the case garnered national attention when Pulliam admitted to shooting Means and said, “The way I look at it, that’s another piece of trash off the street,” Charleston Detective Chris Lioi wrote in the criminal complaint filed in magistrate court.
Pulliam is white, and Means was black.
Charleston police talked with federal authorities about whether the murder met the definition of a hate crime, but Pulliam was not charged with a hate crime.
He is incarcerated at the Southwestern Regional Jail, in Logan County.