MICHIGAN CITY – A teenage boy found not guilty of murder last month will be sentenced on the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide next week.
Javan D. Brown appeared in La Porte Superior Court 1 on Thursday, at which time the state asked that the judge sentence him to the maximum six years in prison for the Jan. 16. fatal shooting of 18-year-old Justin Ameer Garner in the 200 block of Jackson Street..
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bethany Beckman said a pre-sentence investigation found Brown’s risk of reoffending to be moderate; but she also cited his lengthy criminal history, dating back to 2014, which included various violent and nonviolent offenses, and probation violations.
"It's clear from this history ... that probation has been utterly insufficient in curbing the defendant's behavior," Beckman said.
The prosecutor also called the victim’s mother to the stand to testify regarding Brown’s alleged gang affiliation, specifically, as a member of the Murder Mafia Association, a local “set” of the Bloods of Indianapolis.
Multiple photographs depicting Brown wearing red MMA clothing and “throwing” gang signs were entered into evidence.
Defense attorney David Jones said maximum sentences are reserved for the “worst of the worst” offenders, and that as a 16-year-old young man who is “likely to respond to shorter rather than longer imprisonment,” his client does not qualify.
Jones noted that Brown testified at trial and had expressed remorse earlier during the sentencing hearing.
“I apologize to the victim's family,” Brown said. “I know how you feel; I lost someone close to me, too. They probably won't ever forgive me. The facts that I stated in court, that's what it was.”
Beckman said Thursday that Brown testified during his jury trial that he’d accidentally shot 18-year-old Justin Ameer Garner in the head while retrieving a handgun from the pocket behind the driver’s seat in Garner’s car on Jan. 16. Brown reportedly attempted to get the gun with his left and non-dominant hand, as his cell phone was in his right hand.
“If you believe that,” Judge Michael Bergerson interjected Thursday.
Jones objected to the judge’s comments, and accused him of questioning the jury’s Nov. 1 verdict, which rejected Brown’s original charge of murder by convicting him, instead, of the lesser-included offense of reckless homicide.
Bergerson said he accepts the jury’s decision for what it was; and he took the arguments presented to him Thursday under advisement.
When the parties return to court on Dec. 19, Brown will be sentenced to 1-6 years in prison on the reckless homicide charge.
He also was convicted of a misdemeanor count of dangerous possession of a firearm, punishable by up to one year in prison; but Jones contends the misdemeanor must be merged with the felony on the basis that one could not have been charged without the other.
The judge said he’d allow the state to challenge that assertion in writing, and that he will issue his decision on that matter Thursday during sentencing.