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Waffle House shooter pleads guilty in murder case
Charles Octavius McGruder

Charles Octavius McGruder entered a guilty plea Monday in Rockdale County Superior Court, right before he was about to begin his trial for fatally shooting James Johnson in the head during an attempted car jacking in the parking lot of Waffle House on Salem Road on May 20, 2008.

McGruder, 19, was originally charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault felony, attempt to commit armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.

"The defendant first came and told the court he wanted to represent himself," said District Attorney Richard Read. After Judge David Irwin questioned his ability to do so, McGruder decided to keep his defense attorney Mark Hinds. After discussion with Hinds during a break, McGruder decided to enter a guilty plea.

He was sentenced to life in prison for the charges of murder and aggravated assault.

If the trial had moved forward, McGruder's co-defendant Donzell Hunt Jr, 21, who had allegedly been driving the getaway car that night, was scheduled to testify against McGruder.

On the night of May 20, 2008, McGruder and Hunt allegedly drove up to the parking lot of Waffle House on Salem Road where Johnson, who was from South Carolina, was sleeping in a Chevy Tahoe as his friend was eating inside. After the friend came out to the car, McGruder reportedly shot Johnson in the head.

McGruder was allegedly suspected in two cases of car robberies in DeKalb and Fulton Counties but had not been charged. It appeared that McGruder and Hunt carjacked a car in DeKalb, two days before the shooting, and used that vehicle to steal another in Fulton, according to Read. The car used by the pair at Waffle House was stashed, but eventually discovered by investigators.

"It was a good investigation by the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office," said Read. "They did a good job of connecting all the puzzle pieces."