An 18-year-old Baton Rouge man received a 20-year prison term and forgiveness after pleading guilty Tuesday in a January 2012 shooting that wounded two innocent teenage bystanders outside the Mall of Louisiana.
The teen victims and their parents said inside the courtroom that they forgive Johnny Williams and pray that he will someday become a productive member of society.
Williams, who was 17 at the time of the Jan. 7, 2012, shooting, was scheduled to stand trial Tuesday on two counts of attempted first-degree murder but instead pleaded guilty as charged in exchange for a 20-year sentence. He faced up to 50 years on each count.
“I think 20 years is a good resolution here,” prosecutor Adam Haney said outside the courthouse. “Let’s face it — 20 years is a long time.”
Williams accepted responsibility, saving the state the expense of a trial and sparing the victims having to relive the painful events, Haney added.
Williams’ co-defendant, Michael Burrell, 18, of Baker, also is charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder and was slated to stand trial Tuesday, but he is now set to return to court Feb. 6 for a status hearing.
Burrell also was 17 at the time of the incident.
The shooting occurred when Williams fired a weapon into a crowd during an argument with another teen, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Burrell, who allegedly supplied Williams with the gun, also is accused of being involved in the argument that led to the shooting and for giving Williams a ride afterward, the affidavit states.
Caleb Day, 16, was shot in the right arm and chest and suffered nerve damage to that arm, prosecutors have said. Trenton Miller, 16, was shot in the left arm, and the bullet went into his hip and out his leg, prosecutors said.
Day, wearing a dark blue Dunham sweatshirt, said Tuesday inside state District Judge Trudy White’s courtroom that he missed 50 days of school and a year of playing baseball because of his injuries.
“It really affected my life a lot. It took me a long time to catch up,” Day said of the lost school days.“When I try to catch a ball, it hurts my arm.”
Nevertheless, Day said he does not hold anything against Williams and Burrell.
Miller said neither does he.
“It changed the way that I look at people when I’m in a large group,” Miller said of the shooting.
David Day said he watched his son endure “unbearable pain.”
Even though his son faces many new challenges, Day said he forgives Williams and prays for him.
“We hope and we pray that his life will change for the better,” Day said.
John Miller said he will never forget the phone call he received telling him his son had been shot.
“It changes your life. It changes how you feel about others,” he said.
Still, Miller said of Williams, “With our whole hearts we forgive him.”
Williams’ attorney, Vernon Thomas, also said inside the courtroom that Williams is “very, very remorseful and very, very sorry for what he’s done.”
White cited the ages of Williams and the victims and said, “There are no winners here.”
Even though the victims have forgiven him, the judge added, there are consequences connected to his criminal actions.
“The consequences will take a sizeable amount of your life away,” she said.
The shooting took place outside the mall near Dillard’s at about 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, 2012, which was a Saturday.
Earlier this month, on the night of Jan. 5, also a Saturday, a fight broke out at the mall that led to the evacuation of the building.
The next day, East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested six teenagers involved in the fight and its aftermath.
The mall plunged into chaos after as many as 200 juveniles descended on the food court in what sheriff’s officials have said might have been a planned “flash mob.”
A post on Instagram, an Internet social media site, called for teens to meet at the mall, authorities said.
When the crowd gathered in the food court, a large fight broke out.
The fight caused a “stampede,” witnesses said of people rushing to leave.