A sentencing in the latest of several murder cases in Summit County court turned into an indictment of gun violence Wednesday, with the attorneys and the judge highlighting the need to stop the cycle of violence in Akron.
“I pray that you don’t come back to my court,” Summit County Common Pleas Judge Christine Croce told those who packed her courtroom for the sentencing. “This is an emotional turmoil for a lot of people. Until you say, ‘Enough,’ it’s going to keep happening.”
Croce’s entreaty was among the highlights of the emotional sentencing of Devon Williams, 22, who was convicted by a jury last week of murder in the November shooting death of Shawn Prude, 20. The two Akron men had a volatile history, and Williams claimed he shot Prude because he feared for his own life.
Croce sentenced Williams to life in prison with possible parole after 25 years.
Williams plans to appeal.
Williams was the second Akron man convicted of murder for the shooting death of another man in the past month, with a third man on trial this week.
Williams is accused of shooting and killing Prude on Nov. 20 and firing shots at another man who was unharmed. The shooting happened at Family Food & Deli, a convenience store on South Arlington Street near Wilbeth Road.
The shooting was captured on surveillance video, which showed Williams open the store’s door, crouch below signs, stick a gun out and fire.
Williams, who testified during the trial, said he saw that Prude had a gun and thought he had to shoot first. He said Prude had attacked him several times in the past, including pistol whipping him in one incident, with another man stopping Prude from shooting him. He said he started carrying a gun because Prude was targeting him.
Jurors found Williams guilty of two counts each of murder and felonious assault and one count each of attempted murder and carrying a concealed weapon.
Several of Prude’s family members spoke at the sentencing, including his mother, Carlena Thomas, who wore a T-shirt that said, “Gone Too Soon.” A victim advocate stood next to her, holding a blanket featuring pictures of Prude.
“I wish your mother could feel the way I do,” she said to Williams, fighting tears. “God have mercy on your soul. My soul is fed up. You took my boy — and you didn’t need to!”
Monique Fiorello, one of Prude’s sisters, called Williams the devil.
“I know you don’t deserve another chance to do something like this to someone else’s family,” she said.
Countess Thomas, Prude’s 15-year-old sister, said her brother was doing bad things but he also was like a father to her and had three daughters of his own. She said she doesn't know how to respond when his 4-year-old daughter asks when she’ll see her dad.
Assistant Prosecutor Joe Dangelo said he was struck by how another man in the store heard Williams say, “You think this is a game,” before he started shooting. He said so many young men carry guns, shoot at each other and don’t consider the consequences.
“I think too many people in this neighborhood and of this age group think it’s all a game,” he said. “Unfortunately, events like this show us all that it’s not.”
Dangelo suggested that Croce sentence Thomas to life with possible parole after 27 years.
Michael Goldberg, Williams’ attorney, however, urged Croce to consider a lesser prison term of life with parole eligibility after 21 years. He pointed to Williams’ lack of a serious criminal record. He also said Williams’ accounts of his past altercations with Prude were corroborated.
“I truly believe — based on everything I know — that when Prude pulled into that driveway, someone was going to go to jail and someone was going to die or get shot,” Goldberg said. “This is the cycle of violence that continues ... I just hope it stops.”
Williams turned to Prude’s family and apologized. He said he didn’t act out of revenge like prosecutors said.
“That wasn’t my intention,” he said.
“Yes it was,” Carlena Thomas said from the gallery.
"I hope you all can forgive me — and have mercy on me," Williams said. "And that the Lord will have mercy."
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter:@swarsmithabj.