With his defense attorney calling Hardaway High sophomore Kayla Castros 2012 death a tragedy all the way around, Benjamin Diontae Brantley pleaded guilty Monday to fatally shooting his 16-year-old girlfriend with a sawed-off shotgun.
Initially charged with murder when police doubted his claim the shooting was accidental, Brantley pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and possessing an illegal weapon. Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced him to 15 years, with nine to serve in prison and the rest on probation.
Brantley will get credit for the time he already has spent in jail.
He has been jailed since 12:30 a.m. April 1, 2012, having surrendered to police hours after the shooting at his Wellborn Drive home. Recounting the incident before Brantleys sentencing, Detective Amanda Hogan said Brantley, then 18, had been watching TV with Castro in his bedroom that Saturday after going out to dinner with her and her mother.
He had loaned the shotgun to his sister and asked her to return it. When she arrived at his home with the gun about 9 p.m., he left the bedroom to get it.
He returned with the gun in his right hand and closed his bedroom door with his left. Thats when the gun fired, Hogan said.
The 12-gauge, single-barrel shotgun blast hit Castro in the chest. When police arrived, she had been moved from the bed to the floor as Brantleys family tried to administer cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She was pronounced dead there at 9:40 p.m., authorities said.
Hogan said Brantley fled because he hoped before his arrest to see a child hed had with another woman.
His leaving Castro mortally wounded raised suspicion. So did his account of the shooting he insisted was an accident. The hammer on the single-shot gun had to be cocked to fire the weapon, and the trigger was rusty, Hogan said: A Georgia Bureau of Investigation weapons expert estimated it took 3 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger, and tests showed the 14-inch-long barrel was no more than 3 feet from Castro when the weapon discharged.
Brantley told detectives the gun was unloaded when he loaned it out, and he had no idea someone had put a shotgun shell in it when he got it back. He had never fired the weapon before, Hogan said.
He told police he thought the guns hammer was cocked when he brought the gun into the bedroom, but he did not recall touching the trigger, Hogan said.
Hogan and Senior Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore said Brantley and Castro had been dating for about a year, and though friends said they sometimes argued, no one recalled any violent confrontations.
Reports that Castro planned to break up with Brantley were just rumors, Moore said: Investigators could find no motive for him to shoot Castro deliberately.
The shooting not only took Castros life and left her boyfriend jailed, but tore her family apart, Moore said: Castros grandparents wanted Brantley put away for life, but during a bond hearing for Brantley, Castros mother wanted him released.
Moore read a letter from Castros paternal grandmother, who at one point wrote: The family wants no less than a 10-year sentence.
The prosecutor also read a letter from Castros maternal grandfather, who wanted Brantley prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and said Castros death destroyed the familys unity.
No one from her family came to the sentencing. Moore said Castros father left her mother when she was pregnant with Castro, and the mother now faces her own personal issues, which Moore did not specify.
Brantleys defense attorney, Susan Henderson, said Castros grandparents never approved of their granddaughters interracial relationship with Brantley.
In her meetings with Brantley, he always seemed distraught over the shooting and wished he had been the one killed, Henderson said.
Castro was smart and well-liked, and those who knew her felt the loss deeply, Moore said: She was by all accounts a bright young lady with a promising future.