Pat Collins, Sketches by Bill Hennessy
A judge sentenced the five men involved in one of the deadliest series of crimes in D.C. history. (Courtroom sketches by Bill Hennessy)
Steep sentences in the South Capitol Street mass shooting were handed down Tuesday, with three of the five men convicted receiving life in prison without the chance of parole.
Orlando Carter, who masterminded the violence; Robert Bost and Jeffrey Best will spend the rest of their lives behind bars. Each was convicted in May of multiple counts of first-degree murder, assault with intent to kill and other felonies.
Sanquan Carter -- who was found guilty of first-degree murder, assault with intent to kill and 13 other felonies -- was sentenced to 54 years.
The fifth man, Lamar Williams, was found guilty of three counts of second-degree murder and 25 other felonies and sentenced to 30 years. He supplied some of the guns used in the shooting, prosecutors said.
Those men were convicted in the deaths of five people in three shootings that took place on two different days in March 2010. Prosecutors said the violence began over a missing piece of Sanquan Carter's costume jewelry.
In imposing the sentences, D.C. Superior Court Judge Ronna Beck said it was almost “miraculous” that more people didn't die in the violence, the Associated Press reported. More than half a dozen people were wounded in the shootings.
The violence culminated in a drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street, just a few miles south of the U.S. Capitol. Those shot there had gathered following the funeral for another victim killed earlier in the week. Beck called that shooting a “massacre” and a “twisted, irrational and truly evil plot.”
“There is no need for concern that the jury got it wrong,” Beck said.
"Today's prison sentences mark an end to the trial of those responsible for this horrific tragedy, but sadly cannot erase the pain and loss endured every day by the victims' loved ones," D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania said in a statement.
"My thoughts and prayers have been with them since that terrible night in March of 2010 and remain with them today," Catania said. "Brishell Jones, William Jones III, DeVaughn Boyd and Tavon Nelson deserved so much more in life than to senselessly lose their futures because of a dispute over piece of costume jewelry. We can and must do better."
The men implicated in the shootings, all ages 21 to 23, heard the word "guilty" more than 150 times when they were convicted in May, in a verdict that took half an hour to read.
More than 100 witnesses testified and an excess of 1,000 government exhibits were introduced at the five-week trial, the AP reported. Jurors deliberated for three weeks.
More than a dozen family members of the young people killed in the violence spoke at Tuesday’s hearing, many urging the judge to impose the maximum sentence allowable.
A number of those who spoke cried or spoke haltingly, dabbing at their eyes with tissues. Some talked about sleepless nights and fits of crying. Others described depression and frequent visits to the cemetery. Tavon Lambert, who was shot in the leg, broke down in sobs when talking about what happened, hugging one of the attorneys who prosecuted the case.
Still others were angry, calling the defendants “punks,” “murderous cowards” and “a drain on society.” Norman Williams, the father of 20-year-old Jordan Howe, the first person killed in the violence, asked that the judge put the five in prison for the rest of their lives, until they are “dead, dead, dead.” Others cited their faith and said they forgave the group.
Family members who spoke also described their loved ones: Howe, a gifted athlete; 17-year-old Tavon Nelson, a younger brother who acted more like an older brother; Brishell Jones, a 16-year-old girl who dreamed of going to culinary school; 19-year-old William Jones, who wanted to be a commercial truck driver and had a talent for making pancakes. The family of 18-year-old Davaughn Boyd, who died in the violence, did not speak but was present.
The five convicts, all of them wearing orange jail jumpsuits as well as handcuffs and leg chains, looked bored through most of the proceedings, sometimes holding their heads down and other times watching family members speak.
The Carter brothers stood to thank their supporters before being sentenced but Best and Bost declined the opportunity to speak on the advice of their lawyers. Williams read a short letter to the judge in which he offered his condolences and said that what had happened was a “great misfortune.” Lawyers for the men indicated in court they would appeal. All but Williams were convicted of first-degree murder charges, among other offenses. Williams was convicted of second-degree murder charges and other crimes.
Another man involved in the violence, Nathaniel Simms, pleaded guilty to his involvement in the shootings and testified against the others at trial. His sentencing has been scheduled for October.
In the wake of the shootings, Nardyne Jefferies -- mother of victim Brishell Jones -- helped create legislation to address the causes of violence, especially among young people.
"Two years later, the South Capitol Street Memorial Amendment Act of 2012 received unanimous Council support and mayoral approval," Catania said in his statement. "The legislation introduces sweeping truancy and youth behavioral health reforms intended to keep young people in school and address behavioral and mental health challenges before they spiral out of control. "
Following the sentencing, Michelle Nelson, mother of victim Tavon Nelson, said “justice did work out for me.” But she added that the sentences wouldn't bring back her son. Nardyne Jefferies agreed. “No amount of years” would bring back her daughter, she said.