Ralph Stanley “Robin” Elrod Jr., a Navy veteran and electrician whose life was more or less an ordinary, middle-aged suburban existence until, inexplicably, it erupted in unprovoked gunfire of his own making on a fall evening nearly two years ago, pleaded guilty here Thursday to murdering two Peach County sheriff’s deputies.
In pleading guilty to shooting and mortally wounding deputies Daryl Smallwood and Patrick Sondron on Nov. 6, 2016, Elrod avoided a potential death penalty trial and was sentenced to two life in prison without parole terms plus 100 years.
The plea, which came during a two-hour proceeding before a courtroom packed with 200 or so spectators — at least 50 of them uniformed police officers — was not unexpected. Word of its likelihood emerged publicly on social media in recent weeks after one of Sondron’s adopted sons, upon learning that prosecutors had decided not to pursue the death penalty against Elrod, posted remarks critical of District Attorney David Cooke.
“We are not OK with this,” the son, Jacob Sondron, 23, told The Telegraph at the time. “If this case doesn’t get the death penalty, what are the requirements to receive the death penalty?”
But after a relative of one of the slain deputies approached Cooke about accepting a guilty plea for Elrod, some family members of the fallen officers, including both deputies’ parents, agreed to the measure.
The high-profile case had seemed bound for trial sometime next year. The slayings of Sondron, who was 41, and Smallwood, 37, came amid a four-month stretch in which three other Middle Georgia law enforcement officers were gunned down in the line of duty.