True, the Centreville man did answer his door with a Samurai sword in hand — but that's no reason to shoot him, said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Julie Mitchell.
"It's egregious and shocking," she said last Friday in Fairfax County Circuit Court. Judge David Stitt agreed with her and, when she finished speaking, he sentenced the shooter, Antoine D. Benson, 21, to eight years in prison.
The incident happened Feb. 11 and involved both Benson, of 2414 Hamlin Place N.E., in Washington, D.C., and an accomplice, Derrick Randall Taylor, 18, of 13504 Antonia Ford Court in Centreville's Singleton's Grove community.
The two men went to the home of the victim — an acquaintance of Taylor's — and the victim invited them into the basement through a sliding-glass door. Benson then shot the victim in the shoulder.
He and Taylor both fled, and the victim went upstairs where his family called police. He was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital for a non-life-threatening injury. Police arrested Taylor at his home; they didn't know Benson's identity at first, but investigation led them to arrest him on Feb. 27.
Police charged each of them with malicious wounding and, on May 20, the grand jury indicted them both. Taylor appeared Aug. 27 in Circuit Court and entered an Alford plea of guilt before Judge Jane Roush. It means that he didn't admit guilt, but acknowledges there's enough evidence to convict him of the crime for which he's accused. He's scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 15.
Benson pleaded guilty, June 26, and returned to court Friday for his sentencing. Defense attorney William Cram told Stitt at the outset that his client didn't go to the victim's home with the intention of shooting him. "His co-defendant [Taylor] was having a problem with the victim over a failed drug deal," said Cram. "[Benson] said he only went there to back his friend."
Describing the offense as "an awful case [that] involves the shooting of a young man by another young man," Cram said nothing condones the crime. "Drugs were the motivating factor, but it doesn't give my client any pass to get a lighter sentence," he said. [Benson] realizes what he did was wrong. It was a horrible crime, [with] egos involved and threats on both sides."
Cram noted, however, that his client took responsibility for what happened and completely admitted his involvement. And he did so without any plea agreement or promise made to him.
"He gave his cooperation and, as a result of his agreeing to testify, [Taylor] decided to plead guilty, instead of not guilty," said Cram. "He realizes the severity and magnitude of this crime and how much worse it could have been." The attorney then asked Stitt to take this information in account when sentencing Benson.
Mitchell said the defendants owed the victim "a couple thousand" dollars in restitution for his medical bills. And she acknowledged Benson's plans to testify against Taylor and the fact that he shot the victim at Taylor's request.
"But the Commonwealth has no other favorable words to say about this defendant and what happened, the night of Feb. 11," she said. "He agreed to shoot the victim." She said the victim came to the door holding a sword, but lowered it when he saw Taylor because he knew Taylor.
"But then Taylor nodded and stepped aside, and Benson came in and shot the victim," said Mitchell. "The victim turned and took two bullets in the left-shoulder area. The quick reflexes of the victim and the less-than-perfect aim of the defendant are why we're here today. [Benson] could have shot him in the back or chest."
Furthermore, said the prosecutor, Benson "kept shooting at him after two bullets had knocked him to the ground. The defendant didn't even know the victim. This was no crime of passion. He shot a total stranger at someone else's suggestion, [and] he shot him in cold blood. This man is a danger to society."
Before being sentenced, Benson stood and addressed the court. "I'd like to apologize to the victim and to my family," he said. "I didn't intend to hurt anyone, but I did."
Looking at the man before him, Judge Stitt said, "It is a shame — you're only 21 years old. But there's no question about what happened."
On the malicious-wounding charge, he sentenced Benson to 20 years in prison, suspending 15, for five years to serve. For using a firearm in the commission of a felony, he sentenced Benson to a mandatory three years behind bars. The sentences will run consecutively, so Benson will serve eight years total.
Stitt also placed Benson on 10 years probation upon his release and ordered him to receive substance-abuse treatment as recommended by his parole officer.