What penalty is appropriate for a feud-fueled shooting spree that sprawled over 20 miles within a few hours, leaving a pregnant woman dead and a 6-year-old boy unable to talk and bedridden on a ventilator?
That’s the question federal prosecutors, victims’ families, and several defendants have been wrestling with in the nearly five years since 28-year-old Keyonna Perkins was killed execution style just near Elkton, MD, and young Ja’Shown Banner was struck in the face and spine by an errant bullet in Wilmington.
It’s a question federal Judge Joshua Wolson answered — at least in part — during a tense hearing on Friday in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington for three men who had pleaded guilty to stalking, conspiracy to kidnap, and firearms charges.
Nearly 100 relatives and friends of the victims and defendants packed the courtroom, with more than a dozen FBI agents and officials of the U.S. Marshal’s Office on hand, and several police officers stationed outside the courthouse.
Inside Courtroom 6B, Wolson heard from members of both victims’ families. Some said they hoped God could forgive the defendant’s “heinous” acts, and all decried what they called senseless violence that is ravaging communities.
“These guys set out to seek revenge on somebody who did something to them, and as a result my daughter is dead,’’ Marcy Perkins said. “Why? The person you were looking for, you didn’t even get.”
Joshua Potts, Banner’s father, said his boy was a fun-loving child whose promise was shattered in an instant. “Now he’s stuck in bed, with tubes in his body, unable to do anything. He’s in so much pain.”
A prosecutor read a statement from Banner’s mother Shaylynn as she shook in her seat while two women hugged her. “He’s had 16 surgeries in five years,’’ her statement said. “He takes 20 meds, every two hours. He needs constant care.”
Wolson had opened the hearing by warning spectators against outbursts but during one relative’s statement, a woman on the defendants’ side of the gallery began yelling and cursing, leading to her swift removal and another admonition from the judge.
“If you disrupt, you are gone,’’ he reiterated.
After hearing from the families, Wolson lamented the “horrific offenses” that occurred on June 6, 2017.
Then he complied with the terms of a plea deal reached last year for Ryan Bacon, 37, who once was a rap performer who went by the name Buck 50.
The judge gave Bacon 30 years in federal prison for his role in kidnapping Perkins and killing and dumping her in a wooded area, and the chain of events that led to Banner being shot in his mother’s car by men trying to shoot at Perkins’ boyfriend, Markevis Stanford.
Prosecutors have said Bacon shot Perkins after first throwing her into the trunk of a car while using her phone to track down Stanford. That’s what fellow defendant Dontae Sykes told authorities when he pleaded guilty last year. Bacon, who did not cooperate with prosecutors, denies pulling the trigger. Sykes will be sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutors have said Stanford previously offered $10,000 to another man to kill Bacon. Before killing Perkins, Bacon and other men spotted Stanford walking in Glasgow near U.S. 40 and Del. 896 and shot at him several times, without success, court records show.
Bacon’s attorney, Edson Bostic, was subdued after the sentencing.
“This was a difficult case all around for all concerned,’’ Bostic said. “We believe this is a just outcome and it closes a chapter on lives and we move forward as best we can from here.”
Boy was struck by errant bullet while in his mom’s SUV
Wolson also had to decide how to punish Michael D. Pritchett and Dion Oliver, who were together later that day in a car near Sixth and Spruce streets on Wilmington’s East Side, when they spotted Stanford walking.
Prosecutors said Oliver fired several shots but missed Stanford. Their errant bullets tore into an SUV driven by Ja’shown’s mother Shaylynn Banner that had four people inside. Ja’Shown Banner was struck in the head and spine.
Oliver and Pritchett had agreed to get 27 and half years and 25 years, respectively, but the final decision is Wolson’s.
He is assigned to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania but took over the case in Delaware after then-U.S. District Judge Leonard P. Stark, who had overseen it, joined the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Court.
Wolson told those in the courtroom he objected to the sentence recommendations for Oliver and Pritchett – both lower than Bacon’s term — since all the men were part of the same violent conspiracy.
Prosecutor Jesse Wenger countered that the deal, while imperfect, was “as close to a sense of justice” that could be achieved, in large part because some witnesses were unreliable and going to trial could backfire. Defense attorneys for both men also argued that the deal was appropriate, saying their clients took responsibility for their actions.
Wolson called a brief recess to deliberate, then returned and gave Pritchett the agreed-upon 25 years.
But the judge said he could not accept the deal for Oliver, who prosecutors said fired the shots that left the child maimed for life. He re-set that sentencing date for June 24, and called for a status conference on June 22.
Oliver’s attorney, Megan Davis, said that he can withdraw his plea and ask for a trial until sentencing. She did not comment further.
Outside court, U.S. Attorney David Weiss spoke of the dignity shown in court by members of the Perkins and Banner families.
“To hear what those folks have to say, to hear what they’ve had to live through for the last five years, is absolutely heartbreaking,’’ Weiss said.
“And you can’t help but admire the strength of these families and what they’ve gone through and their ability to stand up before the judge, say what they did, and speak in terms of love and forgiveness.”
He added that deciding the right penalty “for conduct that does this kind of harm” is “certainly imprecise and inexact, but it’s the best system we’ve got.”
As for the delay in Oliver’s sentencing, Weiss said: “We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and work on and take a hard look at Mr. Oliver and see if we’re able to come up with a resolution. Otherwise, we’ll proceed to trial.”