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Second Defendant in 2017 Shooting at WCU Pleads Guilty

Attorney Jack Stewart stands next to his client

The second defendant involved in the Oct. 6, 2017, shooting death of a Western Carolina University student pleaded guilty Friday.

District Attorney Ashley Hornsby Welch said Charlotte resident Zavion Southerland, 21, admitted to:

  • Second-degree murder.
  • Second-degree kidnapping.
  • Robbery with a dangerous weapon.
  • Possess firearm by felon.

Superior Court Judge Marvin Pope sentenced Southerland for second-degree murder to the N.C. Division of Adult Corrections for an active minimum term of 276 months to a maximum term of 344 months.

For the purpose of sentencing, Pope consolidated the remaining charges into a single charge of robbery with a dangerous weapon, imposing a consecutive prison penalty of 59 months minimum to 83 months maximum.

Southerland and co-defendant Aja Makalo, 24, also of Charlotte, fatally shot Jacob Ray, a 2014 West Henderson High graduate from Hendersonville, after arranging to buy marijuana from him.

Ray was a 21-year-old junior at WCU majoring in computer information systems. He died at Mission Hospital in Asheville.

Makalo was a WCU student majoring in psychology; Southerland had no association with the university. Makalo pleaded guilty in 2019 to second-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery. She was sentenced to serve up to 25 years in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Chris Matheson prosecuted the case. WCU police investigated with assistance from State Bureau of Investigation agents.

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