VALDOSTA -- A co-defendant in a high-profile Lowndes County slaying investigation pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

James Kendell "Ken" Ethridge pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the February 1999 slaying of Brad Rowan.

Rowan's estranged wife, Bernice, was also charged in the incident. Her trial is set to begin on March 25.

Bernice Rowan and Ethridge were charged with murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime on March 27, 1999. The pair allegedly lured Brad Rowan out to Boring Pond Road in the southeastern part of the county sometime before 10 a.m. on Feb. 16, 1999, under the pretense of picking up his daughter, who was staying with Bernice.

Instead, Brad Rowan was shot in the face with a shotgun at close range, investigators with the Lowndes County Sheriff's Office allege. There was no evidence that Rowan's daughter was present at the crime scene.

Investigators declined at the time to say which defendant they believed lured Brad Rowan to the area.

Bernice Rowan denied that either she or Ethridge, her live-in boyfriend at the time, were involved in the shooting, saying she had met with her husband the night before to discuss a possible reconciliation.

Brad Rowan filed for divorce on Feb. 17, 1998, citing adultery, as well as mental and physical abuse. The divorce was not yet finalized at the time of the slaying. Following the slaying, Ethridge fled the state and was arrested four days later in Nassau County, Fla.

Southern Circuit District Attorney David Miller would not comment on the matter because the case against Bernice Rowan is still pending. It is unclear if Ethridge's plea is part of a deal to secure his testimony for Rowan's trial.

No sentencing date has been set for Ethridge. He could face anywhere from one and 20 years in prison on the voluntary manslaughter charge.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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