May 26, 2012 9:30:52 PM
Lowndes Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens Friday sentenced Demonta Gardner to 20 years in prison. A jury last week convicted Gardner of burglary of an occupied dwelling, but he was not convicted on a related armed robbery charge.
Gardner, 19, of 917 11th Ave. S.; Bobby Adonis Bluitt, 18, of 609 South Gaywood Ave.; Tevin Rashad Oglen, 18, of 494 Dogwood Blvd.; Jeremy Billups, 18, of 412 E. Gaywood Ave.; Corey Jamar Lathan, 18, of 384 Long Drive and Michael Satterfield, 18, of 1622 Washington Ave., were arrested Sept. 29, 2011 and charged with the armed robbery and burglary of Karen Winter's home at Sandpiper Apartments, located at 320 Eighth St. N.
The sentencing came after a morning of speeches by Winter and some of Gardner's supporters.
"I used to not have any real problems with fear," Winter said, as tears welled in her eyes. "Nowadays, I do not leave my apartment after dark. I want (Gardner) to get the maximum sentence. I don't want this to ever happen again. He is old enough to be responsible for his actions."
Brandon Brown, a football coach at Columbus High School accused the media of perpetuating a negative image of Gardner by calling him "Gangsta," a nickname Gardner's attorney said belonged to his older brother.
"I have never heard anyone call (Gardner) 'Gangsta,'" Brown said. "Demonta has had a hard life. He was not an aggressive football player. I believe he deserves a second chance and I ask the judge to be lenient with him."
Youth court records released by Kitchens show Gardner was convicted of a felonious burglary as a juvenile and he is facing another indictment for burglary stemming from a March 2011 incident. Kitchens sternly said Gardner will serve far less time than what he is given.
"There is no such thing as truth in sentencing anymore," Kitchens said. "If I give him 25 years, he will serve about six. Most of my docket is repeat offenders of people sitting in jail, who committed crimes while they were out. The court gets frustrated. It's confusing as to how much time they will serve. (Mississippi Department of Corrections) will never tell you a 20-year sentence for a drug crime only means about a year and nine months. As a state judge, you have no idea how much time will be served anymore. I have a 58-year old victim, who is terrified. The court has very little hope much will change with Mr. Gardner."
"I don't think someone, at (age) 19, is done," Gardner's attorney, Carrie Jourdan, said. "I think he has a chance to do well. I don't think he's done."
A frustrated Kitchens replied, "I don't think he's done either; I don't think he's done committing crimes."
Jourdan questioned Kitchens on the percentage of time to be served with a conviction for burglary of an occupied dwelling. After checking with MDOC, Kitchens said the charge carried an 85 percent time rate of service, not a 25 percent rate, as he once thought.
Gardner, who when posing for a photo Tuesday told the Dispatch he could "not quit smiling," held his head down and wept, as Kitchens delivered his sentence.
"I don't think you send people to prison to get rehabilitated," Kitchens said. "But, I want you to get your GED (diploma), while you are with MDOC. Good luck to you, Mr. Gardner."
Bluitt, Satterfield and Billups are scheduled for trials Tuesday. Oglen was also scheduled for trial Tuesday but he has been given a continuance until the August term of Lowndes Circuit Court.
In another matter, James Newell of Vernon, Ala. is scheduled Tuesday to begin his second trial for murder.
The Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Newell, who appealed a 2009 manslaughter conviction in Lowndes County.
Newell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the shooting death of 31-year-old Adrian Boyett, of Sulligent, Ala.. The shooting occurred at the Slab House bar in Caledonia in 2008.
Boyette died of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Newell was charged with murder in the case, but the jury convicted him of manslaughter.
Newell testified he shot Boyette, during an argument in the bar's parking lot. Newell claimed Boyette came after him, as he tried to leave in his truck. He said Boyette pounded on the truck, yelled at him and threatened to cut him and Newell shot him when Boyette started to reach into his pocket.
The trial was ordered after Newell appealed his manslaughter conviction. The trial is on the docket to be heard by Circuit Judge Lee Coleman.
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