An Akron man remained defiant at his sentencing Wednesday for the shooting death of a 4-year-old Akron girl.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” said Darnell Bitting, who was convicted of attempting to shoot his ex-girlfriend with an AK-47 and instead shooting and killing her daughter. “I feel like I ain’t responsible for that, though. Murder is not what I did.”
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce, however, disagreed with Bitting and told him when he pulled the trigger on that rifle he impacted many lives, including those of his own 10 children and their mothers.
“I believe those 10 kids have the chance go get out of the cycle because you won’t be in their lives,” Croce said. “I pray the mothers don’t bring them to see you. You’re a pathological liar. You’re a drug dealer. You don’t support your children.”
Croce sentenced Bitting, 32, to life in prison. He won’t be eligible for parole for 56 ½ years. Bitting plans to appeal.
A Summit County jury found Bitting guilty Friday of two counts of murder and six counts of felonious assault for the February death of Janaya Swain and the potential harm to her mother, three sisters and the children’s grandmother.
Prosecutors say De’Azha Swain, Janaya’s mother, went to Bitting’s Mercer Avenue home about 10:30 p.m. Feb. 16 to retrieve some belongings. The two of them had dated but were on the outs. Swain got angry when Bitting didn’t answer the door and began smashing windows.
Prosecutors say Bitting grabbed an AK-47, ran onto the front porch and fired the weapon at Swain, but the bullet missed her and hit Janaya, who was sitting in the family’s car in front of Bitting’s home with her sisters and grandmother. Janaya was hit in the head and died.
Bitting testified during the trial that he thought he was under attack when the windows in his home were smashed and fired the weapon as a warning shot, not aiming at anyone.
Bitting’s sentencing was long and emotional, with so many people in the courtroom that a few sat on each other’s laps.
De’Azha Swain, one of several people who wore T-shirts with a picture of Janaya and the words “Rest in Heaven,” said she lost her mind when she was with Bitting and became confused, bitter and destructive. She said the loss of Janaya and help from God turned her life around. She said she doesn’t wish Bitting ill, just as her daughter wouldn’t.
“If my baby was here, she would run to you and give you a hug,” Swain said. “That’s how much my children cared about you.”
Swain said she forgives Bitting.
“I leave you with this advice – and you’re going to need it – you’d better repent to the Lord and you’d better pray,” she said.
Jermaine Bailey, Janaya’s father, asked Bitting to look at him as he was talking, which Bitting didn’t do for any of those who spoke.
“When you go up town – up state – it will be a hard bit for you,” he said. “I guarantee it.”
He knocked on the podium and then took his seat.
Lynette Williams, Janaya’s teacher at ABC Clubhouse Academy, an Akron preschool, said Janaya was funny, smart and eager to learn. Her favorite movie was "Trolls" and she loved swinging and was very proud when she was able to swing on her own.
Williams said the children at the school, who range from age 2 to 12, have had a difficult time understanding what happened and have asked a lot of tough questions: “Why did Darnell do that?” “Can we kill him?” and “Can we go up to the clouds to visit Janaya?”
“I tell them, ‘I don’t believe he meant to harm Janaya. We must try our best to forgive,'" she said.
Michael Bowler, who represented Bitting with attorney Colin Meeker, said Bitting fired the bullet and will be punished, but he isn't a "cold-blooded killer.”
Nickisha Blair, Bitting’s cousin, apologized to the Swain family, but said Bitting isn’t a monster. She said Bitting may not seem remorseful but he’s been through so much in his life that showing emotions isn’t easy for him.
“His face can’t be what you guys want it to be,” she said, looking around the courtroom.
Croce disagreed that Bitting can't show emotion and with Bitting’s assertions that his trial was unfair and he wasn’t guilty.
“Do not stand here and tell me you didn’t commit murder," Croce told him. “The state defines it.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Bitting grumbled.
As Bitting was led away in handcuffs, one of his loved ones yelled, “We love you, Darnell!”
“I love you too,” he responded.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.