In a crime that left an indelible scar on the city of Baker and devastated several families, an apologetic Baton Rouge youth pleaded guilty Monday and received a 40-year prison term for fatally shooting three youths and wounding a fourth victim during a crowded March 2014 birthday party and rap concert inside the Baker Civic Club.
Family members who carried framed photographs of the deceased said the in-court apology from 17-year-old Nakeydran Williams rang hollow, and they have been unable to forgive him as they struggle to move forward without their loved ones.
Baker High School senior Diontrey Jermaine Claiborne, 18, and 15-year-olds Kendal Kemone “Mone” Dorsey, of Baton Rouge, and Marcell Ideal Franklin, of Zachary, were killed in the “senseless” violence that left state District Judge Tony Marabella bewildered.
“It makes me wonder what’s going on,” Marabella said moments before sentencing Williams under the terms of a plea deal with the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutor Darwin Miller told the judge that Williams shot Javaughn Simmons, his intended target, first. Williams continued firing as Simmons and the rest of the crowd started running for cover. Killed in that gunfire were Dorsey, Franklin and Claiborne. Simmons, who was 19, survived.
Williams’ attorney, Tommy Damico, said afterward outside the 19th Judicial District Courthouse that Williams and Simmons had been involved in a confrontation at the civic club shortly before the shooting.
“He decided to handle the confrontation in an inappropriate manner,” Damico said of his client.
Williams, who had turned 16 just five days before the shooting, pleaded guilty to three counts of manslaughter and one count of attempted second-degree murder. He received four 40-year concurrent prison terms.
“I’m not sympathetic by no means, and I’m a God-fearing woman,” Claiborne’s mother, Shanna Claiborne, said in a victim impact statement she gave inside the courtroom. “I don’t think 40 years is enough for taking away a lifetime.”
Claiborne said her son, who loved music and basketball, was just two months shy of graduating when he was killed.
“All those dreams came to an end,” she said. Diontrey Claiborne had three sisters and two brothers.
Dorsey’s uncle, Marvin Dorsey, told the judge that “the world became a little darker for us” with his nephew’s slaying. “He had so much potential,” Dorsey said later outside the courthouse. “I’m just glad there’s some kind of justice served, but it’s not enough.” Kendal Dorsey had two sisters and three brothers.
Kristen Raby, a victim assistance coordinator with the District Attorney’s Office, read a victim impact statement from Franklin’s mother, Sandra Barton, while Barton stood by her side.
“I don’t have any sympathy for you. You took my child away from me at an early age,” Barton stated in the letter. “It makes me sick to my stomach. I don’t know if I’ll forgive you.”
Barton said later that her daughter had a twin brother and other siblings.
“It hurts,” she said. “Why does a parent have to bury a child at such an early age?”
Williams, dressed in a bright orange East Baton Rouge Parish Prison jumpsuit, apologized for his actions.
“Everything happened so fast. I took three lives when I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry,” Williams, flanked by Damico, said shortly before the judge sentenced him.
Jury selection was set to begin Monday in Williams’ trial on three counts of second-degree murder and a single attempted second-degree murder count, but his plea mooted the trial.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III stressed that Williams might have received the same sentence even if he had been found guilty of second-degree murder. The plea, he said, also spared the victims’ families having to endure a painful trial.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Louisiana and other states could no longer automatically sentence juveniles convicted of murder to life in prison without parole, the Louisiana Legislature passed a measure requiring judges in such cases to hold a hearing to consider a defendant’s youth and circumstances of the crime.
A judge, after such a hearing, can still sentence a juvenile convicted of murder to life without parole, but if the judge determines a juvenile should be eligible to seek parole at some point, the state law says a juvenile can seek parole after serving 35 years.
Williams likely will serve about 34 years, Moore said.
“Forty years for taking three lives? I’d rather have something different,” he acknowledged.
“They (Williams’ family) still get to visit him,” Shanna Claiborne stressed outside the courthouse. “I have to visit a graveyard. Every time I walk by his room, it’s just a memory.”
Moore credited two or three young witnesses who came forward in the case, calling them true heroes. The district attorney said it’s a shame prosecutors had difficulty with several other witnesses.
Earlier this year, Damico called the case against Williams one of either mistaken identity or purposeful misidentification. He backed off those comments Monday.
“We felt like the evidence was stronger than I led on earlier in the case,” he told reporters.