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House Party: Community Tragedy

Durrell Pretty sentenced to 13 years for involuntary manslaughter in March shooting death of Brendan Tash.

Through words of grief, anger, pain and love, Brendan Hart Tash's mother and father gave Judge Jane Marum Roush a glimpse of their 20-year-old son. Brendan Tash was killed on the front lawn of his friend's house in Springfield on March 6, 2005.

"I knew from the time he was very, very young that he was very special," said Sandra Moore, Brendan's mother. "I grieve not only for myself, but for Brendan and all he was to experience … and the directions he was dreaming about."

Sandra Moore told Roush about the last exchange she would ever have with her son, the night he walked to his friend's house less than a mile away from his own home.

"I gave him a hug and said, 'I love you Brendan.' He said, 'I love you, too, Mom,’" said Moore.

Steve Tash, Brendan's father, showed Roush the photographs he is left with.

On the ledge between his seat at the witness stand and Judge Roush's dais, Brendan's father placed a photo of his son playing Little League baseball next to the last photo he has of Brendan, taken at Steve Tash's 59th birthday party last year. In between the photos, he placed the white rose from his son's casket.

"I would like to tell you about what kind of person he was," Steve Tash said to Roush. "You might say Sandy and I raised him up right."

Steve Tash juxtaposed his memory of touching his son's neck when Brendan was a baby with the memory of touching his son's body on March 6, at 4:30 a.m., when he had to identify the body for police.

The grief and pain doesn't end, he said. "I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."

Brendan Tash's brother, Adam Tash, gave his mother a hug before he took the witness stand to give his victim impact statement. Adam Tash told Roush he wanted to thank family members and friends, many of whom came to the Fairfax County Circuit Court on Friday, Oct. 21, for all the support they've shown.

"I loved my brother and miss him and wish he was still here. He didn't deserve to die like that," he said.

<b>DURRELL PRETTY,</b> 19, was arrested and originally charged with Tash's murder on March 9, 2005. He pleaded guilty to reduced charges of involuntary manslaughter and feloniously shooting another in the commission of a felony in August.

Brendan Tash's family entered the courtroom Friday knowing that sentencing guidelines recommended that Pretty serve one to three years in prison.

"The more this case has unfolded, the more I learn, the more my sorrow has turned to anger," Steve Tash testified.

"My son's killer is getting away with murder. … There is nothing involuntary about what he has done to my son," he said.

Roush called the sentencing guidelines "inappropriate," and sentenced Pretty, of the 5900 block of Queenston Street, to 13 years in prison — 10 for involuntary manslaughter and five for feloniously shooting another, suspending two years.

<b>THREE WEEKS BEFORE</b> his own 21st birthday, Brendan Tash was shot March 6, 2005 on the front lawn while attending the 21st birthday party of his friend, Matthew Reed, of Cardinal Brook Court in Springfield.

Pretty and seven of his friends showed up uninvited to the party.

"One of the individuals was being loud," said Detective Steve Shillingford during Pretty's plea hearing last August. "They were told they had to leave."

That’s when Pretty and some of his friends chased two people into Reed’s house, according to testimony during courtroom proceedings.

"When this defendant and his friends arrived, they were the first to show physical aggression because someone at the party had the audacity to tell him and his friend to keep it down," prosecuting attorney John Murphy said last Friday.

Witnesses gave police detectives varying accounts, but Shillingford said approximately 15 to 30 people, some with baseball bats and some with bottles, came out of Reed’s house to confront Pretty and his friends.

Pretty obtained a gun from a friend, who has not been charged in the crime, and fired into the air.

Frightened, Pretty fired shots in the air with the intention of moving the group from the house away from him and his friends, according to Robert Whitestone, Pretty’s defense attorney.

But Pretty, a member of a criminal street gang, then lowered the firearm, said prosecutor Murphy, and fired into the crowd of people on the lawn who mostly tried to dive to the ground or run away.

"He was making a statement to everyone at that party that no one will forget," Murphy said. "That night, he wanted to make it clear that he was in control, he wanted to leave everyone terrorized."

Brendan Tash was more than 50 feet away and running toward the house when a bullet hit him in the back of the neck. Friends carried Tash into the house after he was shot, where Reed, the host of the party whose parents were in the house upstairs, administered CPR.

"Brendan was not breathing, his skin was pale, he looked like he had been badly beaten," Reed said, at Pretty’s preliminary hearing in April. "Police asked us to go upstairs … That's the last time I saw Brendan."

Murphy asked Roush to sentence Pretty to the maximum amount of prison time she could. "What this defendant did was play Russian roulette with other young people’s lives to impress upon them how terrifying he could be," he said.

<b>"ALL WE ASK</b> is that justice work both ways for both families," said Gail Pretty, mother of the defendant.

"I know in my heart that Durrell never intentionally meant to harm anyone. He’s devastated. He can’t sleep. At the first preliminary trial when he saw the pictures [of Brendan’s dead body], it made him sick," she said.

"He’s expressed to me that this is something he regrets, he wishes this whole thing could be reversed. It’s something he’ll have to live with the rest of his life."

Gail Pretty described how her son overcame learning disabilities to graduate from high school, and how he worked two jobs in the community. Durrell Pretty’s former boss from a local bagel shop attended the hearing as did family members, friends, neighbors and his past tutors.

"Durrell is a very loving and kind-hearted person. He thinks about everybody," his mother said. "He knew a lot of people from different walks of life."

Acknowledging the "overwhelming grief" Brendan Tash’s family must feel, Pretty’s defense attorney said there was nothing to indicate that his client ever intended to hurt anybody.

"This is a terrible, terrible tragedy," Whitestone said. "This was a frightened man who had reason to be frightened."

"Any examination of the facts of this case is Mr. Tash’s death is an unfortunate result of a series of unfortunate circumstances," he said.

Durrell Pretty told Roush he wanted to address claims from the prosecuting attorney and the probation officer that he does not feel remorse for what happened. "Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this tragic situation," Pretty said. "I think about it every day."

"I regret the whole situation and I am very sorry for what happened. I apologize to the family," he said, turning to the other side of the courtroom where Brendan’s family sat. "I hope you understand that I’m not the monster everybody thinks I am."

<b>BRENDAN’S MOTHER, </b>Sandra Moore, wishes at times that she could have died in her son’s place, she said.

"I’ve heard the statement that losing a child is the worst thing to ever happen to someone, and I had no idea," she testified. "I think I was shot in the heart as well, because my heart is broken."

Steve Tash said approximately 2,000 people attended his son’s funeral in March. "He knew more people, was loved by more people, and affected more people’s lives in a positive way than any other person I know," Steve Tash said.

"He genuinely loved people. I think people felt that sincerity behind that warmth," Moore said. "Brendan’s big heart was evident from a young age."

Both Moore and Steve Tash described their son’s athletic skills and piano playing.

"What he might have accomplished, we’ll never know," Sandra Moore said.

During the two-hour sentencing hearing, both of Brendan Tash’s parents opened their wounds to Judge Roush to show how their dreams for their son and memories of their son have been forever changed.

"I’ll never have to opportunity to go to his wedding, to be a grandparent to his child," Sandra Moore said.

Steve Tash told Roush his memories watching TV late at night when he his son was two years old.

"I heard him walking down the hall with his jammies with the toes, and he would climb up on the sofa and put his little head on my arm and he’d just go to sleep."

Sandra Moore says she can’t accept the feeling that he’s gone.

"I’ll never see him again, never hear his voice, never give him a hug or hear the words, ‘I love you, Mom.’"