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Man won't contest charges in killing

A man charged with being a principal in a murder in October has pleaded no contest to that charge and three others. Jimmerson Hillery, 20, has been held in the Hernando County Jail since the killing. He did not contest being a principal to second-degree murder and burglary with aggravated battery in connection with the death of Derrick Dennard, 28, on Oct. 11.

He also pleaded no contest to distributing cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it, Assistant State Attorney Jim Dysart said. Those charges stem from an incident several days before the murder.

According to the arrest affidavits, Hillery was with another man accused in the murder, James Anthony Austin, 21, when the two confronted Dennard in the victim's house at 337 Union St. Austin's trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday, Dysart said. He is charged with second-degree murder, burglary of a structure while armed and carrying a concealed weapon, Dysart said.

Dysart said that according to the plea agreement, Hillery will serve seven years for all four charges. He will be sentenced March 15.

Dysart said Hillery will not testify in Austin's trial. Dysart said he made the agreement because seven years is the maximum sentence for the principal to murder charge.

"If we had gone to trial, the chances were good that we would have gotten just manslaughter," he said.

According to the affidavit, Dennard and Austin were arguing about Dennard's wife, Belinda, when Hillery stepped in.

According to police, Austin stabbed Dennard with a hunting knife with a 5-inch blade. Dennard chased Austin outside and collapsed in the front yard of the house next door.

The murder was the first in the county in 13 months.