Two mothers spoke emotionally in court Tuesday afternoon about losing their sons to gunfire.
One of the mothers was also losing another son to prison, as he had admitted to possessing a gun at the scene where his brother and a second man were killed.
Dashaun Terry was sentenced Tuesday to an agreed-upon 11 years in state prison, after pleading guilty to possessing two weapons, one at the murder scene and the other in a backpack at the time of his arrest at Schenectady County Community College.
Terry received the sentence after testifying against two one-time co-defendants in the killings. Neither prosecution resulted in murder convictions, though both ended in weapons convictions.
In sentencing Terry on the weapons counts, Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago referenced positive aspects of Terry’s life to that point, brought out in letters from family. She juxtaposed that with the crimes Terry admitted to — and with the words of the two mothers who spoke.
Drago found both instances of gun possession egregious and said possessing a gun at the college was wrong “on so many levels.”
“Despite all those positive attributes, they cannot compare to the danger you brought this community just by possessing this weapon on two separate occasions,” she told Terry.
As for the consequences that gun possession can bring, Drago referenced the two mothers.
“Just look at the heartache in this room,” the judge said. “You can cut it with a knife.”
Terry, 20, pleaded guilty in July to both weapons counts. One was related to the deaths of his brother, Virgil, and 17-year-old Alphonzo Pittman.
The March 2010 shooting followed an argument on Hulett Street between a group that included the Terrys and Pittman’s sister. Prosecutors have said Pittman was defending his sister when he was shot.
Virgil Terry was somehow hit by friendly fire from members of his own group, prosecutors said.
Dashaun Terry was initially charged with two counts of murder but was allowed to plead guilty to less-severe weapons charges in return for his testimony against Jalil Miles and Michael Capers, who were tried separately. Miles was acquitted of the killings, while the jury in Capers’ case deadlocked on the murder counts. Both, however, were convicted on weapons possession counts. Capers was sentenced to 14 years in prison, while Miles received 15.
The weapons sentencing was unusual in that both mothers were allowed to speak even though Terry, while previously charged directly with the killings, had only admitted to possessing a weapon at the scene of the killings. The murder charges were dropped in exchange for his testimony.
Similar statements were allowed at the previous two weapons sentencings, making it the third sentencing in which Pittman’s mother, Shelia, had read such a statement at the sentencing of a defendant not convicted in her son’s killing. It also marked the second time she became too emotional to finish.
It was the first time Bonita Garcia, mother of both Dashaun and Virgil Terry, had read a statement. As such, the two mothers extended condolences to each other during their statements to the court.
Garcia called both her sons victims, men who did not go out that night looking for trouble or to harm anyone. “I feel they were both the victim of circumstance and injustice, by being in the presence of the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, something that could happen to any one of us at any time,” she said.
Garcia said both her sons were pursuing positive things — Virgil was pursuing his passion of music. Dashaun was going to school.
She said she believes both their lives were destroyed by those who won’t own up to what they’ve done or the lives they destroyed.
Garcia then became emotional as she recounted the family members that will never see Virgil again, including her granddaughter, Virgil’s daughter.
Both mothers came to court with prepared comments. Garcia completed hers. Pittman’s mother, her hands shaking, could only get through half of her statement before having to sit down. Her daughter Stasia completed it.
In her statement, Shelia Pittman recounted the night she learned her son was killed and the profound effect it has had on her life and the life of her family.
“There are no words that could describe the impact his death has had on my life, his siblings and the rest of the family,” she told the court.
In the portion of her statement read by her daughter, Shelia Pittman appeared to reference the outcomes of the trials, specifically the unknowns that remain about what exactly happened that night.
“I have many questions I have no answers for,” she wrote. “In my heart, I believe this defendant, and others that were involved, has those answers and they will all answer to someone someday.”
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