Gunman Sentenced for Principal’s Death

Tuesday, Nov 23, 2010  |  Updated 7:30 PM EDT
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<a title=Alante Saunders gets 40 years in jail for shooting principal Brian Betts to death." />

Chris Gordon

Alante Saunders gets 40 years in jail for shooting principal Brian Betts to death.

The gunman in the death of a D.C. middle school principal was sentenced to life with all but 40 years suspended Tuesday, NBC Washington's Chris Gordon reported.

Alante Saunders, now 20, pleaded guilty to felony murder during the commission of a felony -- robbery -- with the understanding that a sentence of life with all but 40 years suspended would be recommended, Gordon reported.

Brian Betts, principal of Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, was found dead in his Silver Spring, Md., home April 15 after he failed to show for work.

Saunders and Betts connected via a sex chat line April 14 and agreed to meet, authorities said. Betts agreed to leave the door unlocked, and Saunders showed up with three other teenagers and a gun, intent on robbing Betts, authorities said.

Betts’s mother, father and sister fought tears as they spoke about the tragedy Tuesday.

Saunders apologized to the Betts family Tuesday, saying the shooting was an accident and blaming drugs for the robbery.

Nationally known lawyer Gloria Allred has been hired by the Betts family. She said she will ask the Department of Justice to investigate the slaying as a hate crime.

“Brian Betts was gay, and the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act was passed to provide greater protections for victims of hate crimes who may be targeted on account of the fact that they are gay or that they are perceived to be gay,” Allred said.

State’s Attorney John McCarthy disagreed.

“If there had been evidence of a hate crime, we would have charged it,” he said.

Saunders will be first eligible for parole in about 20 years.

The three other teenagers have been charged with murder in the case. The mother of one of the suspects also was charged with using at least one of Betts' stolen credit cards.

One of the teenagers, Sharif Lancaster, pleaded guilty to robbery and using a gun during a crime. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the robbery charge and up to 20 years on the gun charge.

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