A Marion man charged last year with shooting and killing his neighbor during a heated argument was given at least four years in prison.
Howard Lee Ferguson, 73, of South Main Street, Marion, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 51 to 74 months in prison. He was given credit for 117 days time served.
In the early morning hours of March 28, 2016, authorities responded to an apartment complex at 348 South Main Street in reference to a shooting. On the scene, investigators found 62-year-old Phillip Ray lying outside the residence suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper torso. At the time of first response, Ray was still alive and taken via helicopter to Mission Hospital in Asheville, where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
As the scene was being processed, the suspect, Ferguson, was questioned by police and was described as being “very cooperative.” According to court documents, Ferguson told officers that he was outside on his porch when he was approached by Ray, where an argument began. In Ferguson’s disclosure of the incident, Ray reportedly told Ferguson that he was going to kill him, threw a rock at him and proceeded to pull out a knife. In response, Ferguson reentered his apartment, grabbed a Winchester 12-gauge shot gun, came back outside and shot Ray through the screen door as the victim was walking to his apartment. Ray was shot in his upper torso and fell in front of his doorway, where he was found by responding units.
After the shooting, Ferguson said he walked back into his apartment and called 911.
Chief Allen Lawrence of the Marion Police Department told WLOS at the time that the situation was “a very tragic, hard situation to deal with right now. Over the course of my law enforcement career, I’ve seen people shot over very minor, minute things that, when tempers escalate, could result in this.”
According to Lawrence and a search of N.C. Department of Public Safety records, Ferguson did not have a prior criminal history.
Before the events unfolded, Ferguson and Ray appeared to have complicated relationship. In a written statement to police, a neighbor to both men was quoted in saying, “Phil has a big temper for a little man. This isn’t the first time they have had problems, and Phil has stated he didn’t like Howard and I believe the feeling was mutual.”
Ferguson was indicted two weeks later for first-degree murder and pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter this month in Superior Court.