SPARTA, Ga. - The stabbing death of an inmate at Hancock State Prison near Sparta last year resulted in another inmate pleading guilty Thursday morning to voluntary manslaughter.
Cesar Cortez, who has been held in the Hancock County Jail in Sparta since the slaying of Cesar Arnold Pastrana on March 13, 2020, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter.
During plea negotiations between Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney T. Wright Barksdale III and Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Chief Public Defender John Bradley, the prosecutor agreed to reduce a felony murder charge down if Cortez would plead to a charge of voluntary manslaughter. As a condition to the guilty plea, Barksdale also agreed to drop charges of malice murder and aggravated assault against Cortez in exchange for his guilty plea to a lesser charge.
Cortez’s guilty plea was accepted by Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda H. Trammell during a hearing that lasted less than a half-hour in Hancock County Superior Court in Sparta.
Trammell sentenced Cortez to 15 years in prison for the killing.
Barksdale acknowledged that he had talked with two of the victim’s relatives in the courtroom, as well as Special Agent Tim Konzelman, who investigated the murder on behalf of the Georgia Department of Corrections.
The district attorney said the victim's relatives seemed pleased with the negotiated plea arrangement and so did the lead investigator in the case.
Cortez and Pastrana were housed in the same building at Hancock State Prison.
“They knew each other and they had similar friends,” Barksdale said.
Leading up to March 13 of last year, the day of the killing, Cortez and Pastrana had gotten into a verbal argument over the victim talking to the defendant’s girlfriend, Barksdale said.
“What resulted on March 13, 2020, is that the defendant, Cesar Cortez was assaulted by individuals, including the victim in this case on the second floor of this dorm,” Barksdale said.
Pastrana took part in the assault on Cortez.
“The defendant stabbed him one time with a homemade knife in the chest,” Barksdale said.
Pastrana, meanwhile, staggered to his cell and later died, according to the prosecutor.
Barksdale said Cortez was indicted by a Hancock County grand jury last year on charges of felony murder, malice murder and aggravated assault.
“After reviewing this case file, and having an opportunity to meet on several occasions via Zoom and in-person, John Bradley and his staff came to the conclusion that the best way to resolve this case is, as to count one, allow Mr. Cortez to plead guilty to a lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter,” Barksdale said. “So, we’re asking this court to sentence Mr. Cortez to 15 years in the state penitentiary.”
The district attorney also asked the court to grant Cortez credit for time served in jail since last March 13 in the Hancock County Jail.
“That is the state’s recommendation,” Barksdale said. “I understand that this is perhaps a deviation from the norm, but looking at this case, and having time to really pray about it, legally there was good chance that a jury would have ultimately come to the same decision — find him guilty of voluntary manslaughter.”
Cortez will begin serving his sentence, immediately, at an assigned state prison.