The sentencing of a 21-year-old Sacramento street gang member turned into a discussion between the prosecutor, the defense attorney and the judge Friday over youth violence, the absence of father figures and the failures of society and the search for role models in high places.
In the end, Jaivonne Flenory-Davis went away to prison for 102 years to life for the July 11, 2010, shooting death of an innocent 14-year-old girl, Lanajah Nachelle Dupree of Sparks, Nev., an aspiring cheerleader shot down at a teen party on Auburn Boulevard.
Deputy District Attorney Leland Washington asked Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette to sock Flenory-Davis with every minute at his disposal for the first-degree murder conviction.
Washington called the killing, prompted by a gang dispute in which Flenory-Davis squared off with rivals and shot wildly into a crowd, a "tragedy."
Cases like this one challenge prosecutors' professionalism, Washington said, "when you're dealing with the families of victims and you feel their pain, which is so real and so unfair."
Beyond the grief of the Dupree family, Washington said, the tragedy also "lies in the fact the defendant had such little respect, hope or value for human life, that he was so willing to take others off this earth without thinking a second about it."
"As a prosecutor, you should have a case like this once in a lifetime," Washington said. "But unfortunately, the Sacramento County DA's Office and DA's offices all over this country and state have case after case about innocent victims like Lanajah who are taken away for absolutely nothing. This epidemic of gun and gang violence is destroying families and literally crippling communities."
Investigators never recovered the gun used to kill Dupree. According to evidence at trial, the weapon was believed to have gotten onto the street as the result of a residential burglary.
Defense attorney Laurance Smith said his client, "unlike many others who I have represented, is not a hard-core sociopath." Smith said Flenory-Davis "could very easily have become a productive, useful member of society."
"He could have done that if he had the guidance of a father, or a father surrogate such as a coach, to guide him from being a boy into being a man," Smith said.
Without it, the defendant lost his sense of self-importance, Smith said, and "people who are not important don't respect themselves, and people who don't respect themselves don't respect others."
As a result, "there was a case like this last year, there was a case like this the year before that and the year before that, and there will be another case next year and the year after that," Smith said.
"We will go home after this sentence has passed today thinking we have done justice. We will have done nothing, because we know what we could do as a society to prevent this sort of thing, but we're not going to do it."
Without guidance for kids growing up, Smith said, youths like Flenory-Davis "will continue to take this do-it-yourself path to manhood."
"This will continue," Smith said. "This society and this system is a failure, and this case is an example of that, your honor. The matter is submitted."
The judge paused a moment before picking up where Smith left off, with an alternative twist.
"This system that you talk about is made up of people, people who get up and go to work every day and come back and listen to rock 'n' roll and watch movies and have kids," Marlette said. "At any point when we say, 'It's this system or it's this society that has failed,' we're missing the mark."
The judge said "it's up to us to take responsibility to turn it all around, if we feel strongly about it."
He said in instances of failure such as the one recorded so far in the life of Flenory-Davis, it's because "they failed to take advantage of all the things that are out there the Boys and Girls Clubs, the after-school programs, all of the things this system, our community, provides."
Marlette agreed "that in parts of our community, the role of the father is not valued," but he insisted there are "still role models out there."
"There was one of them on TV last night," the judge said, about President Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. "He's the president of the United States."
The judge suggested Flenory-Davis, who has a 3-year-old daughter, is a good example of another failed father. He told the defendant he'll never get to see his girl's achievements in life, that "she'll be raised by some other man.
"Hopefully she'll grow up to be as decent a girl as Lanajah," Marlette said. The judge warned, though, that "really bad things happen" in society, as Lanajah's death attested.
"I pray to God it doesn't happen to your daughter," the judge said to Flenory-Davis, "by somebody like you."