Emotion fills courtroom at sentencing of teen who killed pizza delivererAfter the sentence, the two grieving families pray for some good to come from pizza driver’s death.
Posted: May 27, 2010 - 2:57pm
By Paul Pinkham
Minutes after a 16-year-old boy was sentenced to life in prison Thursday, his relatives and those of his murder victim embraced, then prayed together in the courtroom.
As the sobbing teenager looked on, they prayed for an end to street violence and for two families shattered by it.
For strength to make something positive out of something so senseless.
For grace to overcome anger and division.
Jonathan Eddie Hartley said he had never even held a gun before the night he fatally shot pizza deliverer Sarah Hotham during a bungled December robbery near Murray Hill. By all accounts, even the prosecutor’s, he was a good kid who had a bright future and no juvenile record. He was then 15.
Since pleading guilty last month to second-degree murder, Hartley personally met with and apologized to Hotham’s family and State Attorney Angela Corey. That took guts, said Assistant State Attorney Sam Garrison.
See more photos of the sentencing hearing
“I genuinely like this young man … and it absolutely breaks my heart to see him sitting there,” Garrison said before requesting a 50-year sentence. “Sarah Hotham, were it not for the fact that she was staring down the barrel of a gun, she would have loved him, too.”
Garrison said justice demanded that Hartley be the example for why senseless violence needs to stop.
Circuit Judge Charles Arnold agreed but went a step further. He sentenced the teen to life.
“I don’t know what it is, but there is a segment of people in our community — generally between the ages of 14 and 25 — that just want to run around and be gangsters,” Arnold said. “In your case, I really don’t understand why you wanted to be one of those gangsters.”
Arnold said he hopes the Duval County school system posts the Times-Union’s report of the sentence in every high school in the county as a warning to other would-be gangsters.
Hartley immediately began sobbing uncontrollably. The judge gave him time to say goodbye to his mother, and he clung to her neck and eventually had to be pulled away by bailiffs.
Earlier, the former Lee High School student testified he was surprised when Hotham, 57, refused to give him her money and told him he would have to go ahead and shoot her. He said he put his hands up, began backing up and the gun “just went off,” shooting her in the heart. He said a friend had handed him the gun, the first time he’d ever held one.
A robbery of another pizza driver the night before went more smoothly. He and two older boys got three pizzas and $14, he said. Both those defendants are scheduled for sentencing next week.
“I’m sorry for this. It was just a terrible accident. I didn’t mean to do it,” Hartley told Hotham’s sister and daughter. “I wasn’t thinking.”
Garrison questioned that testimony.
“No one forced you to do this the first time, and no one forced you to do this the second time,” Garrison told him. “She [Hotham] was called for the purpose of being robbed.”
Assistant Public Defender Debra Billard asked for a 40-year sentence, the minimum under Hartley’s plea agreement. Acknowledging it didn’t apply directly to her client, she cited a recent U.S. Supreme Court opinion that struck down life sentences for juveniles in non-homicides because, justices said, teenage brains are still developing.
“Jonathan is a kid,” she said. “He has an adolescent brain. A 15-year-old is not the same as a 21-year-old. He was only 15 and had no criminal record.”
She said after he met with Hotham’s relatives this week that he grasped the enormity of what he caused, probably for the first time.
Hotham’s sister, Roxanne Davis Tweedy, called the life sentence appropriate but said the case is a tragedy for all concerned. She described her sister as an outspoken woman who loved animals and her country and would have unquestionably helped Hartley and his friends if they had told her they were hungry.
“He just didn’t kill a person. He killed a phenomenon,” she said.
Tweedy said she hopes the sentence is the impetus for violence prevention. To that end, she said she and Hartley’s mother, Yvonne, discussed an initiative where teenagers like Hartley would make videos to be shared with first-time offenders and at-risk youths to try to scare them straight. They also discussed creating a scholarship in both families’ names for underprivileged children.
“Maybe we can nip it in the bud,” Tweedy said. “Maybe we can somehow make a difference.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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