DECATUR — A judge is now weighing the sentence range a Decatur man accused of murder might face on conviction: anywhere from 20 years to more than 45.
Darion L. Evans, 18, appeared in Macon County Circuit Court Thursday. He has so far pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in the shooting death of Decatur woman Cesley Taylor, who was shot to death while being robbed Sept. 7, 2015.
Two other Decatur men are also charged with murder but prosecutors allege it was Evans who was armed and pulled the trigger. Prosecutors have pushed for a sentence of 45 years, served at 100 percent, but Judge Thomas E. Griffith had expressed doubts about whether that was appropriate after changes in the law on sentencing young offenders.
Adults, for example, face an automatic 25-year enhancement on their murder sentences if they kill with a firearm. What Judge Thomas E. Griffith must now decide is whether a longer sentence can be applied to Evans, who was 16 when the murder occurred. Griffith said Thursday he will outline his views at a new hearing Nov. 2. Establishing a sentence range is important: it sets the guideline for penalties if convicted in a jury trial, and a low enough range may encourage a defendant to do a plea-deal.
The issue is up for discussion because the law now dictates juveniles cannot automatically receive extended sentences, like adults, without courts first considering their life and criminal history, state of mind and backgrounds.
Of the two other 18-year-old defendants charged in the case, Daiquan Cline has already pleaded guilty and accepted a 20-year sentence deal, due to be imposed Wednesday. And talks are ongoing with lawyers representing the third defendant, Shaitan L. Cook Jr.
Griffith had left his courtroom Thursday for a 25-minute in-chambers discussion about the case with Evans' lawyer Daniel Fultz and Assistant Macon County State's Attorneys Kate Kurtz and Lindsey Shelton.
The idea of the conference was for Griffith to learn more about Evans' background while his lawyer and the prosecutors also talked over sentence parameters with the judge.
Evans had given his permission for the conference, after first being warned by Griffith he might not like hearing about it afterwards: “If I say something like, 'I think Mr. Evans ought to get 50 years instead of 20 years,' and Mr. Fultz tells you that, it doesn't give you the right to remove me from the case,” Griffith said.
After the conference was over, Griffith told the court he needed more time to consider what to do, having “heard a bunch of facts I had not heard before” about Evans. “On Nov. 2, I will give a greater indication in terms of what the court may do,” he added, referring to sentence ranges.