Tory Clark, convicted in January of second-degree murder for shooting a teenager outside a Kenner block party when he was just 15, will have to wait two more weeks to find out whether he might possibly get out of jail at some point after 2050.
Because of Clark’s age when he committed the crime, the typical sentence for murder of life in prison without benefit of parole, probation or suspended sentence does not apply. Instead, 24th Judicial District Court Judge Ray Steib will have to decide by April 14 how many more years beyond the 35-year minimum sentence Clark will serve and whether he would be eligible for parole beyond that point.
Clark admitted to pulling the trigger on a gun he said he found a few weeks before the June 6, 2010, incident, when a dispute with another group of boys escalated as everyone left the block party. The defense argued that someone else shot first, and some witnesses testified that Clark’s gun never actually fired.
In any case, Terrance Augustine, a 16-year-old not involved in the fight, was struck by bullets and fell to the sidewalk dead.
Clark’s friend, Charles Lathers, will stand trial in the shooting May 11.
Steib was scheduled to sentence Clark on Thursday but set the April 14 sentencing date after a so-called Miller hearing, which included a statement from Augustine’s mother and testimony from three of Clark’s coaches and his mother.
Miller hearings derive their name from the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which outlawed mandatory life sentences for people convicted of murders committed before age 18.
The idea is that children’s brains are not yet fully developed, making them easily influenced and incapable of fully understanding the consequences of their actions.
The hearing gave attorneys on both sides a chance to try to influence the portion of the sentence left up to Steib’s discretion.
Prosecutor Matt Clauss read a statement from Augustine’s mother, Christie Davis, in which she called the date of the shooting “the worst, most horrible day of my entire life.”
She called Augustine a “sweet, respectable” boy who will never get a chance to be the man he was on his way to becoming the day he was killed.
She said she has forgiven Clark but added, “I hope you pray for forgiveness for what you have caused.”
“In this case, nobody wins,” she wrote to Clark’s mother, Nicole Gooden. “I lost my son forever, and your son is lost to the system.”
Gooden, a mother of four who testified she had no idea her son had a gun, took the stand later. She told Davis, her two sisters and her mother that she was sorry for what happened and that she doesn’t want any bad feelings to linger when they see each other out in the community. But Augustine’s relatives’ nods of understanding turned to looks of disappointment as Gooden protested her son’s innocence.
“I didn’t know my son was going to have a handgun that don’t fire and still get convicted,” she said as Davis and one of her sisters shook their heads. “There’s still someone out there responsible.”
Clark’s sports coaches described him as a respectful kid who liked to goof around but worked hard and was a natural leader.
“I witnessed a lot of kids that were violent and angry, but he never fit that mode,” said Travis Henry, who coached Clark in track and football.
“When I first heard about this whole thing happening, I was shocked,” he said. “I really just couldn’t see him being involved with anything like that.”
Curtis Anderson, Clark’s basketball coach for a year, said he found himself rooting for Clark the first time he saw him play despite the fact that he was playing against Anderson’s own son.
“I said, ‘I like that boy. I like his game,’ ” he recalled. “I didn’t like his hair, but I liked his game.”
A few moments later, Anderson drew a smile from an otherwise somber Clark with another comment about how he used to wear his hair.
Toby Lawrence, who coached Clark in track, lamented the tendency among kids Clark’s age to “beef” with one another simply for being from another neighborhood. “They do things and they’re not thinking what’s going to come back on them,” he said.
“He’s not by himself,” Lawrence added. “You’re going to have many more coming through here.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.