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N.Y. man sentenced in shooting

April 17, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

A New York man was sentenced Tuesday to serve five years in prison in the shooting death of a Hagerstown woman as the result of a plea bargain struck because the prosecution could not prove intent to harm, Judge John H. McDowell told the court.

Robert Francis Stevenson Jr., 19, of Brooklyn, also known as "Drama," pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in Washington County Circuit Court to manslaughter and the use of a handgun in the commission of a felony.

The victim, Tyrentni Jaunhea West, 21, died last year after she was shot in the chest at Westview Homes, a housing development in Hagerstown's West End.


Neighbors had told police that West, who had an address listed in Farrell, Pa., moved to Westview about a month before her death.

McDowell sentenced Stevenson to the maximum 20 years, but suspended all but five years, for the handgun violation. He sentenced Stevenson to the maximum 10 years, with all but five years suspended, for the manslaughter charge. The sentences are to be served concurrently.

The five-year sentence without parole, the mandatory minimum for the gun violation, was part of the plea agreement. Stevenson also was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and $877 in court costs.

McDowell called Stevenson's actions "reckless, grossly negligent."

He said a five-year sentence is "not much," but that the state could not prove intent to harm.

West and Stevenson were in a neighbor's kitchen at around 11 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2001, when West was shot, Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Steve Kessell said.

West left the apartment and collapsed in the courtyard.

Stevenson was arrested more than an hour later after another Westview resident found him on her love seat and called police, police said. She said he appeared to be asleep.

Kessell said Stevenson had pointed the gun at West three times earlier that evening and was flashing it around as a status symbol.

Public Defender Mary Riley said Stevenson believed the safety was on and did not intend to shoot West when he pulled the gun from his waistband.

Had the case had gone to trial, Riley said, a defense expert witness would have testified the safety was defective. The safety could have switched off when he pulled the gun from his waistband, she said.

Riley said a witness noted the surprised look on Stevenson's face after the gun fired.

Riley insisted the plea be considered involuntary manslaughter.

Whether it was involuntary or not wouldn't affect the sentencing, but would affect Stevenson's treatment in prison, Kessell said.

Prior to sentencing, West's mother told the court she prayed to understand a legal system that would have Stevenson serve only five years, calling it "really messed up."

"I pray nothing like this happens in your family because you're not going to want them to have a plea bargain or a five-year sentence," Rose Phillips told Stevenson.

After the sentencing, West's sister said the sentencing was "not justice."

"My sister's life is worth more than five, 10 years," said Nikkia Thomas, 27, of Hagerstown.

Under the plea agreement, several charges were dropped. They included first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault and use of a handgun in the commission of a violent crime, Kessell said.

Upon Stevenson's release from prison, he is to have five years of supervised probation, McDowell said. Stevenson is not to contact the victim's family.

At Phillips' request, McDowell ordered Stevenson to complete an anger management course after he is released.

Because he pleaded guilty, Stevenson does not have the right to appeal or to ask for a sentence modification, McDowell said.

On Tuesday morning, Stevenson appeared in court in wrinkled khakis and an untucked white dress shirt. His father sat a few rows behind him, while the victim's family and friends sat in the rows behind the prosecutor.

"I don't hate you, young man, and I wish this upon no mother," said Phillips of Farrell, Pa. "It was wrong what you did, very wrong."

Thomas, 27, of Hagerstown, told the court her sister was an "innocent bystander."

"It's because (of) people like him, I keep my children in the house, and that's not right," Thomas said.

McDowell called Thomas and Phillips "courageous" for appearing in court and speaking up.

Stevenson expressed his "deepest condolences" to the family.

"What happened was very stupid. It shouldn't have happened. I'm hurt," Stevenson said. "I just hope the family members understand that I would never do this intentionally."

"I wish it had never happened. I'm just sorry," Stevenson said.

Stevenson's father, Robert F. Stevenson of New York, said after the sentencing that he prays for West every Sunday.

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