Mother talks about sentencing for men convicted of fatally shooting son outside Tacoma convenience store
Elladell Morris hasn’t forgiven three of the young men who killed her son.
And she told them that Wednesday before two were sentenced to spend what likely will be the rest of their lives in prison and the third got 25 years.
“Yes, I’m bitter,” she said in court. “Yes, I’m upset. You took my only child, my baby.”
Brandon Morris, 19, was killed in May 2015 in a retaliatory gang shooting outside a Tacoma convenience store at South 45th Street and South Puget Sound Avenue with friends.
He wasn’t part of a gang, Pierce County prosecutors said, and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A jury convicted 17-year-old Jermohnn Gore, 24-year-old Alexander Kitt and 18-year-old Clifford Krentkowski of first-degree murder in August for the fatal shooting.
They were convicted of four counts of first-degree assault for the other people present who could have been shot.
Three others pleaded guilty in connection to the shooting, but were not in court Wednesday.
Trevion Tucker, 17, was sentenced to 12 years in August, and 18-year-old Jeremy Bolieu to 15 years in July. Lance Milton-Ausley, 18, will be sentenced next month.
Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend gave Krentkowski 25 years, Kitt 84 years, two months, and Gore 82 years — the low end of the sentencing range for each and below the standard range for Krentkowski.
In court, Elladell Morris showed them several posters with photos of her son camping, rafting, playing sports, hunting.
“This is my Brandon,” she said. “This is the beautiful, beautiful boy that you guys took.”
Before he was sentenced, Kitt told Arend he regretted believing he would get a fair trial.
The prosecutors “weren’t concerned with truth or justice,” he said, adding he will appeal his case.
Gore told the judge he understood where Morris’ family was coming from, and that it wasn’t right that he died. But it wasn’t his fault, he contended.
“I’m not a murderer,” he said.
His attorney, Robert Quillian, argued for something less than the standard sentencing range. There should be some light for him, “even though it’s a long, long, long tunnel that Mr. Gore is looking at,” the attorney said.
Prosecutors asked for the lesser sentence for Krentkowski, who evidence suggested wasn’t one of the shooters. Deputy Prosecutor Jesse Williams noted that a couple of jurors wrote the court to ask for leniency on his behalf.
“It was clear that a number of them wrestled with levels of culpability,” Williams said.
He also noted, “While he may not have been a shooter, he was there and ready and willing to assist.”
Krentkowski told the court that, while he has maintained his innocence, he had empathy for Morris’ family.
“I understand their anger and their hate toward me,” he said.
He said he has children of his own, and Arend said she hoped he’d still have the chance to be a dad and have a positive impact on their lives.
As for Morris’ family and the concept of forgiveness, Arend told him: “It’s probably still very raw.”
She explained to Krentkowski that she had no discretion regarding his sentence. She accepted prosecutors’ recommendation to give him zero time for each specific charge, but that still left a minimum of 25 years for firearms sentencing enhancements, required by state law.
Arend also rejected a medley of arguments from defense attorneys as to why their clients should get a new trial. One had to do with extra security measures taken at their trial, such as requiring observers to leave cellphones outside.
The judge said that started after a report that someone had posted audio recording of testimony on social media, and after phones had been heard during the trial despite repeated requests that they be turned off.
She said another measure, allowing people to enter the courtroom only between witnesses or at breaks, was imposed after observers continually entering and leaving the courtroom became a distraction.
She asked observers to limit that movement, and when that wasn’t successful, the restriction on coming and going was enforced.
None of that was cause for a new trial, she said, nor were other complaints, including about the jury.
A defense attorney argued that a juror with the same name as his son accidentally served during the trial without realizing the jury summons was for his son.
The defense also said another juror saw a news broadcast about the case during the trial.
Arend questioned both jurors Wednesday, before deciding that there wouldn’t be a new trial.