For prosecutors, the bedroom note was a disturbing sign of the times. It read, “Del Ray for Life” — language they said indicates two teenage brothers found guilty of murder last year had gang affiliations. On Tuesday, they used the note to describe Malik Byrd, 15, and Marquis Byrd, 17, as “gangbangers” who committed murder on Del Ray’s most popular street in the middle of a beautiful summer day.
“The residents of Del Ray will never feel as safe as they did before July 29,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Karin Riley, invoking the day the Byrd brothers fatally shot Al-Rahn Powell, 18, and permanently wounded Dennis Wise, 19.
“He didn’t deserve to die, no one did,” said Larry Brown, defense attorney for the two brothers. “But we have to balance out what really happened here."
In the end, Judge Donald Haddock sentenced Malik Byrd to 18 years of incarceration: three in a juvenile facility and 15 in an adult prison. Judge John Kloch sentenced Marquis Byrd to 20 years in an adult incarceration facility. The unusual double hearing brought an emotional response from the packed courtroom Tuesday, as friends and relatives of the teenage brothers hugged each other and wiped tears from their eyes.
“It’s too many years,” one woman said, doubled over in grief. “Too many years.”
COURT DOCUMENTS show that Marquis Byrd arrived on Mount Vernon Avenue with a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol tucked in his waistband. Earlier that day, he handed his 14-year-old brother a loaded .32-caliber revolver — a fact that the defense attorney described as a symptom of Marquis Byrd’s growing fear of rivals who felt were out to get him.
“The strong always beat on the weak,” said Brown. “But to suggest that these young men were in a gang is to insult our intelligence.”
Brown said that the two brothers were walking north on Mount Vernon Avenue with loaded weapons in an effort to avoid contact with Powell and Wise — teenagers Brown said were older and larger than the two brothers. When Powell and Wise began circling the Byrd brothers on their bicycles near the Ultimate Styles Barbershop, Brown said, the rival teenagers had not arrived at the location in search of a hair cut. During Tuesday's hearing, the defense attorney was dismissive of testimony that suggested Powell and Wise were confronted by the brothers while they were on their way to get a haircut. Instead, he said, the two teenagers prompted the fatal confrontation.
“Young men don’t get haircuts on Saturday afternoons in the summer,” said Brown. “It just doesn’t happen.”
ACCORDING TO TESTIMONY from both trials, Malik Byrd shot Powell once in the head and Marquis Byrd shot Wise twice in the legs. During two trials last year, defense attorneys for the Byrd brothers tried to argue that they were carrying loaded weapons in an effort to defend themselves against teenagers whom they perceived as a threat — a theory of defense that described the shootings as an accident that was brought about by the aggressive behavior of Powell and Wise.
“They were circling on their bicycles in a threatening manner,” said Gary Smith, Marquis Byrd’s defense attorney. “And they were much bigger and stronger.”
“This was a fight that got out of control,” said Douglas Steinberg, Malik Byrd’s defense attorney. “The firearms were used in a defensive manner.”
By the time the court officials convened to sentence the two brothers, both Smith and Steinberg were gone — but the theory that they were packing heat to defend themselves was not. Brown argued that both brothers were constantly hectored by “knuckleheads” and “bullies.” Although it didn’t excuse their crimes, Brown said that a full appreciation of the facts was necessary to understand what had happened on that sunny Del Ray afternoon.
“They tried to run away,” said Brown during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “They were trying to avoid a confrontation.”
AL-RAHN POWELL was described in victim impact testimony as a talented teenager with an interest in mechanics and a desire to enter the military. He sometimes found himself in trouble, like the day he was caught trying to rob a gun store or the day he was banned from using the Charles Houston Recreation Center. But family members described him as a role model to his younger siblings and an important part of the household dynamics that has now been removed from the scene.
“Since this has happened, Al-Rahn’s younger brother is full of anger,” said Al-Rahn Powell, the murder victim’s father. “I don’t want to lose another child.”
In emotionally charged testimony this week, Lee described how the murder of his son has shaken the family — jeopardizing the future of siblings who once looked up to their late brother. Now, ten months after the violent encounter that left him grasping for life after being shot in the head, Lee said that he is struggling to come to terms with the proper application of justice.
“I don’t know what true justice could come from this,” he said.