NEW BERN, CRAVEN COUNTY -

A man has admitted to shooting and killing a New Bern resident during a home invasion. His three co-conspirators have also admitted to being involved in the crime.

District Attorney Scott Thomas announced Thursday that 23-year-old Titus Dawson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of 46-year-old Jeff Joyner in 2012. Dawson was also convicted of armed robbery, first-degree  burglary, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

Dawson was sentenced to between 21 to 28 years in prison. In court Wednesday, Dawson apologized to Joyner's three sisters.

"He admitted to the shooting," said Betty Powers, one of Joyner's sisters. "I think he was really sincere. I think, in my heart; I don't think he really intentionally did it. He said he was running and shooting back."

In addition, Dawson's co-conspirators, 21-year-old Dwayne Evans, 24-year-old Christopher Bryan, and 24-year-old Kevin Henderson pleaded guilty to ransacking and robbing Joyner's home. They each received a sentence of between 12 to 16 years in prison.

Investigators said the home invasion happened at about 7:30 p.m. on March 9, 2012.  According to police, Joyner and his roommate were inside their home on Poplar Street in New Bern when the roommate heard footsteps outside.

Two of the four robbers appeared, with one pointing a gun at the roommate, said police. The roommate then locked the front door and went to Joyner's room to alert him.

Joyner and his roommate could hear the four robbers ransacking the house, upending furniture, and looking in drawers and cabinets, investigators said. When it became quiet, Joyner left his room and went to the front door, where he fired a single shot.

But Dawson, as he was running away, returned fire over his shoulder three times, hitting Joyner once in the chest, said police. Joyner died from the gunshot wound.

Dawson, Evans, Bryan and Henderson planned the home invasion after one of them claimed to have bought drugs at Joyner's residence, said police. The four men planned to rob everyone in the home, and spent time conducting surveillance on the property.

The four men were looking for guns, money and marijuana in the home, police said. But they only stole $125 in cash from the residence before being chased away by Joyner, according to investigators.

Members of Joyner's family, including his three sisters, were in court when the four men pleaded guilty.

"You see, he was fighting cancer," said Powers. "These guys came in like home invasion. Like they were after drugs, because they had scoped the house out for a while... They knew when they got paid."

The district attorney released the following statement:

“We are pleased all four of these defendants have accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty for their respective roles in this case. All four are going to prison for many years all because they wanted to steal drugs and money.

"Based on the evidence we had in this case, we believe the pleas and sentences are appropriate. The victim’s family was supportive of this disposition and relayed their appreciation for the work of the police department and District Attorney’s Office.”