PINE BLUFF, Ark. – Thomas Quarles, the Arkansas teen arrested in 2021 after shooting a classmate at Watson Chapel Junior High School, has accepted a plea agreement that will put him in prison for decades.

Jefferson County prosecuting attorney S. Kyle Hunter announced Monday that 17-year-old Thomas Quarles had pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the killing of 15-year-old Daylon Burnett in 2021.

Quarles had originally been charged with capital murder. As part of the plea agreement, he received a sentence of 40 years in prison.

Quarles, who was 15 at the time of the incident, was arrested after he was found hiding behind a nearby home after the shooting, which happened at Watson Chapel Junior High School in Pine Bluff on March 1, 2021.

Burnett’s mother, LaKeisha Lee, told KARK 4 News that her son and Quarles had been good friends but had been in an argument sometime before the shooting, with Quarles seeking out Burnett earlier in the day of the shooting.

“He had been asking kids, ‘Have you saw Daylon? Y’all haven’t seen Daylon yet?’” Lee said in an interview just days later.

In an interview in December 2022, which would have been just a couple of days before Burnett would have turned 17, Lee said she thought it was unfair that Quarles would potentially be able to be free despite the loss of her son.

“I just feel like one day he will be able to get out and go on with his life, and my son will never be able to have kids or be there for his nieces and nephews,” she said at the time. “I just hate that.”

The case was initially set for trial on June 1.