He got 82 years for Tacoma murder. Appeals court says his youth should have been considered

One defendant’s convictions in the fatal drive-by shooting of a teenage bystander in Tacoma were reversed and another defendant needs a special sentencing hearing, the Washington State Court of Appeals said this week.

Six people were charged and sentenced in connection to the death of 19-year-old Brandon Morris, who prosecutors said was hit in a retaliatory gang shooting outside a convenience store May 1, 2015.

Morris wasn’t part of a gang, prosecutors said. He happened to be with friends at the store at South 45th Street and South Puget Sound Avenue when the shooting happened.

The six people convicted ranged in age from 15 to 23 at the time of the shooting and got sentences ranging from about 12 to 84 years.

Some pleaded guilty.

Clifford Jacare Krentkowski, Jermohnn Elijah Nathaniel Gore and Alexander Jabbaar Kitt went to trial, and jurors found them guilty of first-degree murder for Morris’ death and four counts of first-degree assault for others present who could have been shot.

They appealed their convictions, and a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals overturned 21-year-old Krentkowski’s convictions Tuesday.

The panel also said that 20-year-old Gore needs a new special sentencing hearing for a judge to consider his youth at the time of the offense.

Krentkowski’s trial attorney made motions to be taken off the case, arguing that he had a conflict of interest because he had represented a rival gang member previously.

The appeals court said Pierce County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Arend should have let the lawyer withdraw.

“He repeatedly informed the trial court of this conflict and stated that the conflict would limit his representation of Krentkowski throughout the trial,” Judge Rich Melnick wrote for the unanimous panel. “We conclude that Krentkowski received ineffective assistance of counsel.”

Krentkowski, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to 25 years. That was below his standard range.

Prosecutors said he was present and willing to help the others, but evidence suggested he may not have been one of the shooters.

They also noted that a couple jurors wrote the court to ask for leniency on his behalf.

Arend agreed to follow the prosecution’s recommendation to give him zero time on the charges, and 25 years in firearm enhancements, which were required by state law. She told Krentkowski she had no discretion regarding his sentence.

Jared Steed, who represented Krentkowski in his appeal, said Friday the appellate court’s decision sends his case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

“We’re pleased to see that the court is upholding Mr. Krentkowski’s constitutional rights and remanding his case so that he can be afforded them,” Steed said.

Gore, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to 82 years in the case.

“Gore contends that the trial court erred in sentencing him because it failed to take account of his youthfulness pursuant to recent Supreme Court cases concerning sentencing of juveniles,” Melnick wrote in the opinion, signed by Judges Lisa Worswick and Lisa Sutton. “... The State concedes that, due to developments in the law since Gore was sentenced, his case must be remanded for resentencing.”

Such a hearing must consider “Gore’s immaturity, impetuosity, failure to appreciate risks and consequences, Gore’s family and home environment, the extent of Gore’s participation in the crime, peer pressures,” and his ability to assist his attorney — which were not specifically considered at Gore’s first sentencing, the opinion said.

The appeals court said Kitt, who got 84 years and two months in prison, does not need such a hearing.

“Nothing in the record demonstrated Kitt’s particular immaturity, and he has not argued that he was especially immature except for identifying his age as 23 years old at the time of the crime,” the opinion said. “... Kitt was six years older than the next youngest of all six individuals in the vehicle at the time of the shooting.”

Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.