Three men were convicted Wednesday of malice and felony murder in the fatal wounding of an 8-year-old boy last January when 16 shots flew through the steel front door of a Fort Valley apartment.
Jurors deliberated about four hours Wednesday before reaching their verdict. The verdict came on the eighth day of the trial in Peach County before Superior Court Judge Tripp Self.
Self sentenced Dennis Eason, 27, of Fort Valley, Tevin Sams, 22, and Kristian Wipfel, 21, both of Macon, each to life without the possibility of parole.
“If you’re the kind of male - not a man ... that’s just going to cowardly shoot through a door, lie about it, cover it up, then you can’t be with us. You cannot be with us. You forfeited your right to be with us,” Self told them.
Prosecutors sought the maximum, while defense attorneys sought the possibility of parole with hopes of rehabilitation of the men. The judge also heard from family members of the boy and from Sams before rendering the sentence.
Clad in his pajamas, Jai’Mel Anderson had stayed up late to watch television and play video games on an air mattress in the living room of unit 2-E at Indian Oaks Apartments. He was shot twice, including once in the chest, about 1:40 a.m. on Jan. 6.
The boy was rushed by ambulance to the Medical Center of Peach County, Navicent Health, where he was pronounced dead at 2:25 a.m.
De’Jad Williams, 24, who was dating the boy’s mother and taking care of the boy when he was shot, is awaiting trial on a charge of second degree murder for allegedly engaging in threats with Eason through cellphone texts.
Self noted a disturbing text message that was introduced into evidence that indicated the men knew there were children in the apartment. Jai’Mel’s brother was not struck by any bullets.
Tequila Hubbard, Jai’Mel’s mother, read a poem through tears that his brother had written about him. His grandmother recalled the last time she saw Jai’Mel and how he’d given her a hug without her having to chase him down “to give him that sugar, give him that love.”
Jurors also found Eason, Sams and Wipfel guilty of aggravated assault and possession of firearms in the commission of a felony. Eason was also found guilty of terroristic threats in connection to the cellphone texts, while Sams and Wipfel were found not guilty of that charge.
Sams apologized to the boy’s family in the courtroom.
“I know this whole situation was stupid, and this whole situation could have been avoided,” said Sams, who pointed at Eason and Wipfel as being the shooters at trial. “But everybody had a part in it, and now we all got to pay the price for it.”
Two others, Darrelle Garvin, 21, and Jeremy Jackson, 26, both of Macon, previously pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault in connection with boy’s death.
Garvin and Jackson drove the men in separate cars to the back parking lot of Shiloh Baptist Church next to the apartment complex and waited for Eason, Sams and Wipfel to return after they went down a path that leads from the church to the complex, according to testimony.
Both Garvin and Jackson originally had been charged with murder. Part of the plea agreement for both men included testifying against the co-defendants. Sentencing hearings for Garvin and Jackson are pending.