Willie McKinley Hill dabbed tears with a tissue as he sat before a judge awaiting his fate.
Two summers ago, Hill shot and wounded his 17-year-old son during an argument that boiled over after Hill sent his son to pick up some food at McDonald’s.
When the son took more than an hour to return, and with cold food, long-brewing tension between the pair led to gunfire.
As he sat in Bibb County Superior Court on Monday having just pleaded guilty to aggravated assault in the case, Hill, 51, was facing up to four years in prison.
He had admitted to firing a bullet — by accident, Hill claimed — that tore through his son’s shoulder and broke the boy’s clavicle.
The shooting didn’t make the local news when it happened on Aug. 24, 2020, in the Beaumont Heights subdivision off Williamson Road in southwest Macon.
Prosecutor Lauren Brown argued Monday that Hill should go to prison, in part, for escalating the argument instead of “just removing himself” from the fray. Instead, Brown said, Hill grabbed a .40-caliber handgun.
The weapon, she said, went off when Hill shoved his son to, in essence, “put him out” of their house.
Brown acknowledged that Hill’s son “does not want to see his father go to prison.”
Hill’s attorney, Debra Gomez, told the judge that the father-son clash was “not as simplistic” as the police initially noted in their reports.
“There has been,” Gomez said, “a long history brewing in the family. … This argument wasn’t just about McDonald’s.”
“Well,” Judge Howard Z. Simms chimed in, referring to a 2003 Macon slaying over $2 borrowed to buy fast food, “we’ve had folks get killed around here over french fries, so nothing surprises me anymore.”
Hill, who had no criminal history and has worked for two decades at a south Macon ceiling-tile factory, spoke next.
He told the judge, “My anger got the best of me.”
He said he lost his cool, that he had just planned to kick his “hard-headed” son out of the house.
Hill said that when his son showed up with cold food after driving around for more than an hour, the son smarted off.
“That’s when my blood pressure went up,” Hill said.
He said their argument “got out of hand.”
Hill apologized and said his relationship with his son “is fine” now. He has since given the boy a truck.
Simms told Hill that parents and teens argue often enough, but that they don’t resort to gunfire.
“It was totally an accident,” Hill said. “I didn’t want to shoot him. I didn’t mean to shoot him. Man, when that gun went off that thing scared me so bad.”
The judge told Hill that his was a rare case.
“Based on everything I’ve seen and heard,” Simms said, “you are a fine and upstanding fellow — right up until you shot your son.”
The judge, known for his sometimes-scathing lectures and often-stiff sentences for the most cold-blooded of killers, told Hill that sometimes he makes it a point to send a message to locals: violence won’t be tolerated here.
But in Hill’s case, Simms said, there was no message to send.
“I’m not going to send you to prison, Mr. Hill,” the judge said. “I deal with enough tragedy on a daily basis to where I’m not anxious to compound it.”
Hill was sentenced as a first-time offender to 12 years on probation. If he violates those terms, he would likely be sent to prison for four years.
“It’s not very often that somebody walks out of my courtroom through the same door they came in having shot somebody,” Simms told Hill. “They generally leave in handcuffs. But I have some faith that I won’t be seeing you again.”