COLUMBIA — The sprawling prosecution for the February slaying of Corey Brown drew nearer to its close Monday afternoon as three men received prison sentences in separate hearings at the Boone County Courthouse. Of the six men charged with involvement in the crime, all six have pleaded guilty; only one remains to be sentenced.
The day's hearings were marked by a wide array of emotions — sadness, anger and even thanks.
First to appear was Nick Weavers, 21, who pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted robbery Aug. 17.
Brown's mother, Sherry Sanders, came to the stand carrying a box of tissues to give a victim impact statement. She quickly began to cry.
"I have two other sons who are growing up without a brother, and two grandsons who are growing up without a father," Sanders said.
One of Brown's sons, Jailen, 2, was in court, wearing a blue Royals hat too big for his head.
"I am not a vengeful person, but I want justice for my son," Sanders said. She said the fact that Weavers had a possibility for probation greatly upset her and would devalue her son's life if Weavers walked the street so soon after what happened.
On the night of Feb. 16, Weavers went to the Ballenger Liquor and C-Store in northeast Columbia with three other men in a Jeep and met with Brown, Ashtin Weger, 20, and Andre Lee, 21. Police said the two sides were planning to rob each other of cash and marijuana — which neither side brought with them.
Shooting broke out, and Brown was hit. He died shortly later at University Hospital.
Weavers' attorney, Kevin O'Brien — who persistently argued for probation — said that the court should have leniency on Weavers because he never had a gun, didn't get out of the vehicle during the incident and cooperated fully with police.
After Circuit Judge Kevin Crane sentenced Weavers to "shock" probation — the possibility of just 120 days in prison with probation instead of a full 10-year sentence — a chorus of whispers emerged from the corner of the courtroom where Sanders sat with more than a dozen family and friends.
Shortly after, Lee – who had arrived at the liquor store with Brown – came before Crane to be sentenced. He had pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted robbery and armed criminal action Sept. 8, but when Sanders came to the stand to give her second victim impact statement of the afternoon, she pleaded for mercy.
"He was there as my son's protector," Sanders said. Lee "provided guidance" for Brown and was only there to help her son, she said.
"I feel almost guilty that he's here," she said.
"You and I have a difference of opinion," Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephanie Morrell said. Morrell said that Lee fired at the Jeep multiple times and then ran and hid the guns.
Lee's attorney, Gerald Mueller, called Lee's mother, Delores Armstrong, to the stand. Armstrong outlined her son's lifelong history of psychiatric problems, saying he had most recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Lee was given 12- and 10-year sentences, to be served concurrently.
Lee then addressed the court.
"I know what I did was wrong," he said, his voice catching in his throat. "I miss Corey dearly." There was hardly a dry eye in the gallery where his mother sat with Sanders.
After Lee was led away, however, tensions boiled over in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Armstrong's husband pointed his finger at Morrell and shouted, "You are wrong" as she walked down the hallway to the next hearing in the case. "You are wrong!"
Down the hall, the scene was more placid as Nikolaus Wadlow's family watched the 17-year-old receive a sentence from Circuit Judge Gene Hamilton. They leaned forward in their front-row seats as they strained to hear the judgment in the cavernous Ceremonial Courtroom. Then came the sentence: 10 years.
Yet there was no sobbing. Wadlow, who was in the Jeep with Weavers, had been certified to be tried as an adult but will likely serve time in a juvenile facility until he is 21, at which point he could be released on probation. Outside the courtroom, his family hugged and thanked Wadlow's attorney, Kimberly Shaw.
Sanders, hours later, didn't think the varying punishments made sense, saying "it doesn't add up."
"The people that were with Corey got far more time than the people who were in the vehicle," she said after Weavers' sentencing.
In a previous hearing, Weger — who, like Lee, was with Brown at the time of the shooting — had also pleaded guilty to first-degree attempted robbery and armed criminal action. He received two 15-year sentences to be served concurrently.
On the other side?
Bradley Enyart — the 17-year-old accused of firing the shot that killed Brown — pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and armed criminal action and received 15- and 22-year sentences to be served concurrently.
A fourth man in the Jeep, Michael McHenry, 17, could also receive a sentence similar to Wadlow and Weavers' sentences. According to information provided in a probable cause statement, his actions in the shooting appear to be similarly limited.
"You think my son’s life was worth four months of (Weavers') time?" Sanders asked. "That, to me, doesn’t make sense."
The case's final hearing — for McHenry — is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2010.