A Jackson County judge on Tuesday railed about Kansas City’s decades of gun violence, state government’s “encouraging” the use of weapons, and his own futility in trying to bring justice to the “senseless, thoughtless and ultimately cruel” murder of a young mother.
Judge John Torrence sentenced Deandre “Day Day” Jackson to 26 years for the second-degree murder of Maryanna “Pretty” Pennington, 25, after a two-and-a-half hour emotional hearing where the victim’s family packed the room.
Torrence said he couldn’t understand why Jackson shot Pennington, her sister and two friends with a handgun and then an AK-47 -- 34 shots in all. Pennington, her sister Marseanna Clark, then 24, Myesha Miller and Chloe Donald, both 25, had just attended a family wedding on Nov. 12, 2016, when their car stalled and they were stranded at 21st and Cleveland streets.
Jackson ended up “shredding them," Torrence said.
“These (four) victims in the car are completely non-threatening, completely helpless, completely innocent people. They are fish in a barrel,” Torrence said. “They are fish in a barrel.”
The shooting stemmed from what prosecutors called a "girl fight" between Pennington and Jackson’s girlfriend the day before. In fact, Jackson’s brother, Mark, who died in 2013, was the father of Pennington’s youngest child, and the fight was about the annual memorial party for Mark Jackson.
The high-profile sentencing comes on a particularly violent week in Kansas City. On Friday, Erin Langhofer, a 25-year old Overland Park woman, was shot while attending the Crossroads First Friday event. Prosecutors charged Deon'te Copkney, 18, in the shooting. The night before, Michael Pittman, 63, was found dead in the street near 32nd and Indiana in what police are investigating as a homicide. And on Saturday, Kansas City police said John Noel, Jr., 26, was shot and killed near 55th Street and Prospect.
The 28 years Jackson County prosecutors sought for Jackson would not be a deterrent to anyone else, Torrence said, because the community is now used to “irrational behavior surrounding weapons and senseless murders.” He also took on Missouri state government, which he said “encourages” the use of “everyone, everywhere” walking around with a weapon.
“When you couple that with anger, fights, domestic strife, what can only be described as insignificant conflict, it sadly ends up with shell casings,” Torrence said.
Just before the sentencing, prosecutor Dan Nelson held up a Ziploc bag with 34 shell casings, 10 from a .45-caliber pistol and 24 .223-caliber casings from what police suspect was a modified AK-47, what Nelson called “a weapon of war.”
“The consequences of this are devastating,” Nelson said. “This is a war that unfolded on our streets.”
Jackson’s lawyer, Dan Ross, asked that his client receive a 16-year-sentence, arguing that the young women were spoiling for a fight with Jackson’s girlfriend. Jackson, who sat stone-faced through most of the hearing, asked Pennington’s family for forgiveness.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
Pennington’s mother, Marvella Clark, said she didn’t believe Jackson’s apology was sincere. While briefly hopeful as the judge ticked off each criminal count and added 26 years to each one, Clark says she was disappointed when the judge ultimately gave Jackson just 26 years.
“He should have got 100 years, not no 26 years,” she said. “He took a life. He should be in prison for the rest of his life.”
Marsehanna Clark, who was paralyzed by the shooting, had to be lifted by a caretaker from her wheelchair and carried to the stand. Under questioning from Ross, Clark said she had a gun in the passenger seat with her, but Jackson opened the car door and shot her.
Clark said her life has completely changed -- she can't work, she can't care for her two children, and she suffers from severe depression and insomnia. Pennington was her second mom, she said, always there to care for her, and that was taken away by Jackson.
"It's almost like you don't believe in the universe anymore," she said.
Peggy Lowe is a reporter at KCUR and is on Twitter @peggylowe.