BLADEN COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - David Wayne Gore walked out of the Bladen County Courthouse a mostly free man Friday, and not long after descending the front steps of the courthouse, he was also forgiven by a woman still grieving the loss of the man Gore killed.
Gore, a Wilmington boat shop owner, was convicted Thursday by a Bladen County jury of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a deadly shooting in 2017. On Friday, Judge Joshua Willey gave Gore two 30-day split sentences in the Bladen County jail, a $75,000 fine, and supervised probation.
Gore was facing 16-29 months in prison for fatally shooting Allen W. Blanchard, 34, of Wilmington, in the head following a confrontation at Squires Timber Mill off NC 210 in the Kelly community of Bladen County on Dec. 23, 2017.
After Friday’s sentencing hearing, Tara Thau — Blanchard’s longtime girlfriend and mother of their three children — accepted an invitation from Gore’s family to attempt mending both families’ broken hearts.
“When he had said what he said, it broke my heart and I felt for him," Thau said of Gore apologizing in the courtroom Friday morning. "When I came out (to the courtyard), his family asked if they could approach me and I said yes. I wanted to let them know that I forgive them.”
Thau and Gore hugged for nearly a minute in the courtyard before members of Gore’s family walked over. The group talked for around 10 minutes and Thau said they plan to keep in touch.
It was an unusually pleasant conclusion to a case that prosecution and defense attorneys agreed was unique.
“I’ve been practicing law for nine years. I could practice law for 59 more years and probably not have a case that even remotely comes close to the set of facts that you have here,” Assistant District Attorney Quintin McGee said. “The fact of the matter is that Allen Blanchard was killed, the jury determined unintentionally, and we respect that verdict.”
Defense attorney Buddy Allard was more than just Gore’s lawyer. The two have known each other since they were in ninth grade, a friendship of more than 40 years.
Despite being told by many people that he should not be involved in the case because of how close he is to Gore, Allard — a 33-year law veteran — said he was compelled to see it through.
“The state felt that it was one thing, we felt that it was something different, so we just couldn’t reach a middle ground,” Allard said. “The system’s designed to allow the community to decide these things in the end. I think the outcome was the best we could have hoped for, both regarding the verdict and the sentence.”
During the sentencing hearing, Thau and Blanchard’s sister, Jeanine Greece, read statements they had prepared as well as statements from other family members who were not present.
Greece read a statement from their dad, asking the judge to show no mercy to Gore.
"He chose violence over humanity. I ask for the maximum sentence allowed by law,” Greece said while reading from the statement. She added, "everything is a reminder of my brother. I ask for the maximum sentence for justice and so that my brother didn’t die in vain.”
When the judge agreed to Gore’s request for an opportunity to speak directly to Blanchard’s family, Gore stood and turned toward Thau, Greece and others gathered on the first two rows of courtroom benches.
His voice breaking several times, and with members of the Blanchard family already crying, Gore said, “There’s nothing I can say that would ever bring Allen back. I could stand here and tell you I know how you feel, but I really don’t. I can tell you this: When (Thau) read the letter about your daughter, it hit me right in my heart. I’m sorry and I wish we’d never met under these conditions. I can’t bring Allen back, but I want you to know this: As long as I live, every holiday, what you read up there and what you said is what I feel. I’m sorry for all of this.”
Prior to Gore’s statement, Allard said his client is reeling from the effects of the deadly shooting.
“Allen Blanchard lost his life for no reason,” Allard said. "David Gore has nightmares. He doesn’t sleep. He has been in counseling since December 2017. He is not unaffected by this even though I know that sounds hollow to (the victim’s) side of the courtroom.”
Gore is scheduled to serve his first 30-day sentence Dec. 1-30, 2019, and be behind bars the same days in 2020.
Garrett Gore, David Gore’s son, said as relieved as he is by the sentencing, he feels for what the victim’s family continues to endure.
“Our hearts go out to the Blanchard and the Thau family,” Garrett said. "The last year and half has been really tough because we haven’t been able to reach out to them. ... I think we’re all still trying to absorb what’s happened this week. Obviously, we’re extremely thankful that God showed his kindness towards us in this, but at the same time, we haven’t started healing. I don’t think anybody has.
“I hope and I pray that the Blanchards and the Thaus can heal.”
David Gore, the owner of Gore Marine in Wilmington, received a tip that a $200,000 boat stolen from his shop had been spotted in Bladen County.
According to the Bladen County Sheriff's Office, Gore arrived at the mill and found Blanchard and another man, Ryan Ciro Thau, 33, of Wilmington, loading scrap metal onto a truck.
Authorities said Gore confronted the men and shot Blanchard, who was airlifted to New Hanover Regional Medical Center where he died the following Monday. Thau was not injured during the incident.
Sheriff's officials later confirmed that Blanchard and Thau had no connection to the stolen boat, but Thau was charged with felony larceny after the property owners said no one had permission to be at the mill.
“We tracked it up this way and we stopped here to find that there was somebody back there in these buildings..and I had my gun...and I was aiming at him and the gun went off and shot the man right in the head,” Gore said in the 911 call.
"Is he the one that stole the boat?" asked the dispatcher.
“No, ma’am...the only thing I know is I screwed up. I’m going to be honest about the whole thing,” Gore said.
Gore was initially charged with second-degree murder but that charge was later upgraded to first-degree murder. He also faced a charge of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree kidnapping.
Before the trial began, the state dismissed the kidnapping charges and reduced the first-degree murder charge to second-degree murder.