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A Stetson Hills man will avoid a first-degree murder trial after pleading guilty Thursday to lesser charges in a double shooting that grew out of a botched drug deal.

William Quiterio Prine, 24, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and second-degree assault in a Feb. 6, 2017, shooting that killed Manuel L. Vigil and left a second man, Theran Hopke, paralyzed from the chest down.

The plea deal averts a trial scheduled for March 12. Instead of a potential life sentence, Prine, a former Fort Carson soldier, faces up to 28 years in prison under terms of his agreement with prosecutors, but he also is eligible for probation or a community-based alternative to prison. Sentencing is set for April 24.

Attorneys for Prine fought without success last year to have the case against him dismissed, arguing that he acted in self-defense. They said Prine feared for his life when he fired an AR-15 from a second-floor bedroom window in the 6300 block of La Plata Drive when Vigil and Hopke arrived in a pickup after Vigil threatened to kill him and his roommate. Hopke denied being aware of any plans for violence.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Deborah Grohs rejected a petition for immunity under the state's "make my day" law, ruling that the shooting did not qualify under the 1985 law because the two victims didn't cross the threshold into Prine's home. The law allows residents to use deadly force against an intruder in their home if they fear the person intends to harm them or another person or commit a crime.

Grohs conceded the defense presented "very strong evidence of self-defense," however. Evidence suggested Vigil was headed for the front door with a rubber glove on one hand and likely was armed, the judge found.

"I don't think based on the evidence I heard that Mr. Vigil was going to knock on the door," Grohs said in November in denying the "make my day" petition.

The deadly encounter was the culmination of a 10-day feud over a drug deal in which Prine paid Vigil several thousand dollars only to discover that the box of marijuana he'd purchased had been weighed down by a brick or rock, authorities said.

Police at a pretrial hearing read numerous death threats that Vigil had sent via text. One of them included a photo of Prine's home, proving that Vigil knew where they lived.

Authorities say Vigil was shot shortly after stepping out of the truck and jumped back inside after being wounded. Hopke, in the driver's seat, was shot in the chest while fleeing.

Prine's roommate, Matthew Houston, was initially charged with first-degree murder as a co-conspirator, but Grohs took the unusual step of dismissing all counts against him at a preliminary hearing in April, ruling that prosecutors had presented "absolutely no evidence" he was part of a plot.

Had Prine gone to trial, prosecutors could have introduced testimony that Prine was allegedly involved in a plot to rob Vigil in retaliation for the drug deal. The defense was cleared to introduce testimony about Vigil's alleged gang ties to corroborate Prine's story that Vigil claimed an affiliation with the Sureños as he got out of the pickup and strode toward the house.

Prine remains free on $250,000 bond pending sentencing, court records show.

Reporter

I cover legal affairs for The Gazette, with an emphasis on the criminal courts. Tips to lance.benzel@gazette.com

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