Vernon Lewis Curry Jr. appeared to chuckle last week after a Pierce County jury found him guilty of first-degree murder.
A family member of the man he killed shouted at Curry, who made the sound — somewhere between a smirk and a laugh — as sheriff’s deputies led him from the courtroom.
On Friday, when the 34-year-old returned in court to be sentenced for fatally shooting 32-year-old Michael Ward Jr., it was Ward’s family who laughed openly as Curry maintained his innocence.
Throughout the sentencing, comments and expletives flew between those there to support Curry, and Ward’s family and friends.
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Deputies told spectators several times that they needed to watch peacefully or leave, and they escorted both sides from the building after court.
Before he was sentenced, Curry thanked his friends and family for supporting him and continued to insist he wasn’t guilty.
“All praise due to Allah,” he said. “I’m innocent. I feel like the court could have did a better job of going out and doing an investigation, because they know, as I know, as everybody know, I didn’t do that.”
Judge Kitty-Ann van Doorninck told Curry she had no doubt about imposing a high-end sentence of 47 years, six months in prison.
“I think the jury did exactly the right thing,” she said.
She also praised the law enforcement work on the case.
“There could have been a time that you could have gotten away with this,” she told Curry.
He walked up to Ward’s parked vehicle and shot him Sept. 7, 2014, in the 3800 block of South Yakima Avenue. Ward died shortly after.
Investigators found Curry’s DNA inside a ski mask he ditched near the shooting scene.
Curry argued at trial that tests suggested another person’s DNA was on the outside of the mask, and that he had been asleep at home with his girlfriend at the time of the shooting.
At sentencing, Deputy Prosecutor Jesse Williams said: “This was a cold-blooded and ruthless act, and this defendant knew it, and he did it. That to me is an insight into the man that Mr. Curry is.”
Williams and Ward’s family asked that the judge show no mercy at sentencing.
“I just don’t understand,” said Ward’s great aunt, Carolyn Williams. “Whether or not you ever show any remorse for it, that’s on you.”
After court she added: “The black community is weeping. We’re weeping to see another two families destroyed.”
Ward’s sister, Marche Ward, held a poster with photos of her brother as she addressed van Doorninck.
“I had to figure out how I was going to tell my mother that her first-born son was gone,” she said.
Why Curry killed Ward has never been determined.
“You took Michael Jr.’s life, and for what, we may never know,” his stepmother, Karen Ward, said to him at the sentencing.
Curry, she said, knows the truth.