Crime - Sacto 911

A young woman was shot dead at a party. Who pulled the trigger? Jurors will decide

Joslynn Sovenski in her Ponderosa High School graduation attire.
Joslynn Sovenski in her Ponderosa High School graduation attire. Courtesy of Danny Sovenski

The fate of the two brothers accused in the 2015 shooting death of a young El Dorado Hills woman at a party in Carmichael is now in the hands of jurors.

Sacramento County prosecutors say Kenyatta Makhia Brown killed Joslynn Sovenski, 18, in the early morning hours of Sept. 19, 2015, with a single shot to the chest from an assault-style handgun brought to the apartment by his brother Keyon Brown. Prosecutors also assert that Keyon later hid the gun and lied to detectives to cover for Kenyatta.

Kenyatta Brown faces a second-degree murder charge in the deadly shooting. Keyon is accused of aiding and abetting his brother. Both face allegations of possessing the gun that ultimately killed Sovenski in their trial before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Curtis Fiorini.

Jury deliberations are set to begin Monday.

On Thursday and again Friday, twin juries – one for Kenyatta and one for Keyon – listened to competing versions of what happened to Sovenski: one, a tragic, foolhardy accident triggered by a lethal combination of alcohol, drugs, recklessness and a loaded gun; the other, a killing set in motion by brothers who brought an assault weapon to a house party knowing – and ignoring – its deadly implications.

In either scenario, “Joslynn Sovenski is a victim. Every decent human being’s heart should go out to her family,” Kenyatta Brown’s attorney Russell Miller told jurors Thursday. But Miller added later, “This is not a murder trial. This is about young people being foolish and acting dangerously and a young lady paid for it.”

Kenyatta “handled guns and was drinking,” Miller argued, “but he did not fire the weapon.”

Miller claimed fatal shot was self-inflicted. Keyon’s attorney, Melissa van der Vijver, argued neither Keyon nor investigators knew – or know – who pulled the trigger.

Keyon sold guns, and both brothers knew weapons well, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Casey Newton said in his closing arguments. Newton pointed to undated photos pulled from Keyon’s cellphone showing the brothers and friends posing with weapons.

The gun recovered at the apartment, a glossy black Tec-22 with a full magazine, made the rounds at the party. Partygoers, including Sovenski, passed around and posed with the weapon, witness statements and evidence photos showed. Two years after the shooting, it remains unclear who owned the weapon.

Van der Vijver said Keyon and partygoers heard the fatal shot come from a bedroom and watched as a stunned Kenyatta walked from the room where Sovenski lay dying. “I didn’t do it. I didn’t do it,” Kenyatta said at the time, according to van der Vijver.

“Go,” Keyon told his brother, van der Vijver said. Kenyatta later fled the apartment.

As sheriff’s deputies followed a frantic 911 call to the Carmichael apartment complex, Keyon stuffed the Tec-22 under a bedroom mattress. Investigators later recovered loaded magazines stowed in a dresser drawer and tucked into a box of beef-flavored ramen noodles.

Newton scoffed at Keyon’s claim to sheriff’s detectives that he hid the gun in the bed to keep it safe after the shooting.

“Kenyatta – he gets out of there. Keyon wants to make sure that no one knows what happened. He lies,” Newton said. “The plan is to ghost Kenyatta Brown from the apartment where Joslynn Sovenski was killed.”

Keyon “clearly, actively deceived police,” Newton said. “He doesn’t care a lick about keeping the gun safe. Keyon is throwing guns under mattresses because his brother shot Joslynn.”

But van der Vijver said Sovenski’s death was a product of dangerous misfortune and that Keyon was “trying to cover for his brother, because he doesn’t know (what happened), not because he does know.”

She asserted that Keyon stayed behind at the apartment to render aid to the dying Sovenski. Only fate, van der Vijver said, dictated who died in that apartment bedroom and who ended up facing a judge at a homicide trial. She called upon jurors to find Keyon Brown innocent.

“These are kids who are doing something incredibly dumb and incredibly dangerous,” she said. “This was a tragic accident.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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