CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A man accused of killing a woman during a domestic-related incident outside Citadel Mall in February 2019 pleaded guilty during a hearing Tuesday.

Cary Stephens is accused of shooting 23-year-old Deja Dantley in the parking lot of Citadel Mall. Dantley attempted to drive away but crashed her car in the process. She was found dead at the scene.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson explained in a downtown Charleston courtroom on Tuesday that what began as an argument in the mall parking lot culminated with Dantley dead from a gunshot wound.

Wilson noted that Stephens had been arrested dozens of times in the past and has been given multiple chances at probation – many of these charges connected to crimes that are still pending in court.

While Stephens entered a guilty plea to murder in this case, Solicitor Wilson said this is a case of domestic violence and the ripple effects of a crime like this are felt throughout the community.

“This is what women are afraid of,” said Wilson. “The most dangerous this is when women try to leave, and that’s when she ended up dead. We are asking for 40 years.”

Wearing her daughter’s favorite color, purple, Dantley’s mother also recounted the heartbreaking story during Tuesday’s hearing, saying she has been keeping her daughter’s memory alive for years by advocating for victims of domestic violence.

A judge overseeing the case ruled that Stephens will serve the 40-year sentence, as requested by Solicitor Wilson. The maximum sentence for this crime is life without parole.

Stephens’ defense team said he is pleading guilty to the charge now because Stephens does not want to put the victim’s family through the painful process of a trial.