Demartre Trevon Harris’ uncle felt partly responsible for his nephew’s predicament.
Speaking Thursday to Superior Court Judge Ben Land before Land sentenced Harris in one 2015 drive-by shooting that left a man dead and another that wounded two others, Mark Patterson of Detroit remembered getting a phone call from Harris about four years ago, after Harris found out his girlfriend was pregnant.
Harris told Patterson he wanted to change his life, to ensure he’d always be with his child. “I can’t let my baby grow up without me,” he told his uncle.
“He loves his daughter,” Patterson said. “He wants to be with his daughter.”
That phone call stuck in his mind, he said, and it still weighs on him: “I feel like he might have been reaching out,” he told Land. Harris perhaps was trying to escape his life in Columbus, to start anew in Detroit. “I wasn’t looking at how his heart was trying to get away…. I feel like that weight’s on me,” Patterson said.
Land said he appreciated the uncle’s concern, but Harris’ decisions were his own, and no one else’s. “That’s on him,” the judge said. “That’s not on you.”
Harris’ daughter will grow up without him, because Land sentenced him Thursday to life plus 15 years in prison for the Nov. 24, 2015 fatal shooting of Marcus Bowden and the wounding the previous day of Laundon Alexander and Patrick Boyd, all shot outside a house at 2900 Cusseta Road, where Bowden lived.
Prosecutors said the two drive-by shootings were in retaliation for Harris’ having been beaten Nov. 21, 2015, outside the M&N Liquor Store across the street, where the alleged Bloods gangster had a chance encounter with a member of the rival Crips street gang, triggering the assault.
Harris had visited the store with a girlfriend who was driving a white Ford Explorer. She went inside the 2821 Cusseta Road store as three men came out, one of whom recognized Harris and confronted him as the brawl erupted.
The men who attacked Harris were aided by others who came running across the street from 2900 Cusseta Road. The assault ended when the girlfriend came out and screamed.
Investigators said Harris was infuriated, and afterward messaged a Facebook friend that “Everybody dies,” and “The Bloods will be respected.”
Two days later, Alexander and Boyd were talking outside 2900 Cusseta Road when a white Ford Explorer raced by with someone firing from the rear passenger’s seat on the driver’s side. Both men were wounded in the thigh.
The following day, a white Ford Explorer sped by again, with someone firing from the same position. Bowden was hit multiple times in the torso and later died.
Finding the surveillance video from the earlier assault on Harris, police first located his girlfriend, who identified Harris. The suspect remained on the loose for months afterward before police tracked him down.
After a week-long trial, a jury Monday found Harris guilty of felony murder for killing Bowden while committing the felony of aggravated assault, and of three counts of aggravated assault and one of using a gun to commit a crime.
The jury found Harris not guilty of malice or intentional murder.
During his sentencing Thursday, a victim’s advocate read a letter from Bowden’s sister, Tanisha Richmond, who said her brother’s children will grow up without him, too: “My brother’s kids will not know anything about their father because of this matter.”
Besides his uncle, Harris’ mother and other relatives spoke on his behalf.
“My heart truly goes out to the deceased’s family,” said the mother, who added she lost her oldest son 10 years ago. “I just ask your honor to please have mercy on him.”
Prosecutor Don Kelly did not press Land to give Harris the maximum sentence of life without parole, leaving that to the judge’s discretion. But Harris had to be punished for the violence he instigated, Kelly said: “He made those decisions … and he has to pay the price for that.”
Defense attorney Nancy Miller asked Land to consider the family support that Harris had, and to give him a chance for parole, so that he might later play a role in his daughter’s life.
Harris also asked for leniency: “I have a great deal of sympathy and remorse for the family,” he said of Bowden’s relatives. “I understand that what’s going on is hard for everybody.”
In declining to give Harris the maximum sentence, Land said he had weighed what Harris’ family said against the seriousness of the crime, and felt the jury’s verdict had to be given due respect, but not without some consideration for the defendant.
“There’s an opportunity that you have at some point in the future to start a new chapter,” he told Harris, 26. “And whether you choose to do that is your decision and yours alone, to be made after a significant amount of time in our prison system. But that opportunity is there for you, and that will be between you and the parole board.”
Typically inmates sentenced to life with possible parole serve 30 years before they’re eligible for release.