Five men responsible for deadly 2010 shootings in Washington, some of the worst violence in the nation's capital in years, were sentenced Tuesday to life in prison or sentences that will keep them in prison for decades.
District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Ronna Beck said it was nearly "miraculous" that more than five young people didn't die in the violence, which erupted over two days in March 2010. More than half a dozen people were also wounded in shootings that began over a missing bracelet, a piece of costume jewelry.
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," said Beck, who presided over the trial for the five earlier this year. More than 100 witnesses testified and in excess of 1,000 government exhibits were introduced.
Beck sentenced the men, all of them in their early twenties, at the end of an emotional court hearing that lasted all day. More than a dozen family members of the young people killed in the violence spoke, many urging the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
A number of those who spoke cried or spoke haltingly, dabbing 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 send the five to 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 were 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.
Orlando Carter, the mastermind behind the violence, was sentenced to life in prison. His brother, Sanquan Carter, whose missing bracelet began the violence, was sentenced to 54 years. Jeffrey Best and Robert Bost both received life sentences. And Lamar Williams, who provided guns used by the group but did not participate in the shootings themselves, received a sentence of 30 years.
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.
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, the mother of Brishell Jones agreed. "No amount of years" would bring back her daughter, she said.