If the gun Cheyenne James fired at a 51-year-old woman that July morning had gone off, a third person may have died and a third person — James — likely would have spent the rest of her life in prison.
Instead, the gun malfunctioned, sparing the life of James’ intended target, and James testified against the two Akron brothers who had already shot and killed a random person each that morning.
Because of her cooperation, Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Baumoel urged Summit County Common Pleas Judge Joy Malek Oldfield to impose a prison sentence of less than five years for James on Monday. This would enable James to apply for an early release after serving six months.
“It’s a tough balancing act when you state all the facts surrounding this case,” Baumoel said. “I feel she is someone who wants to turn her life around.”
Nathan Ray, James’ attorney, asked Oldfield to consider probation for his client, who pleaded guilty to felonious assault under an agreement with prosecutors in February.
Oldfield, however, said she didn’t think probation was sufficient, considering James’ involvement in a string of random shootings last July that left two people dead. Two other people survived because a gun malfunctioned. She sentenced James to 4½ years in prison, leaving open the possibility that she may grant her an early release.
“I believe you can turn everything around in your life,” the judge told James.
This was a very different outcome from last week’s sentencing for Donyea and Orlando Tyus, the two Akron brothers who, along with James, chose people at random across Akron to shoot in the early morning hours of July 7, 2018. The brothers were both convicted by a jury of aggravated murder and other charges and were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“You will die in prison,” Judge Alison McCarty told the brothers during their sentencing.
The brothers, who claim to be innocent, plan to appeal.
James, 21, of Akron, was the prosecution’s key witness in the July trial of the brothers. Under a plea deal, she agreed to testify in exchange for not being charged with murder or attempted murder.
James pleaded guilty Feb. 12 to one count of felonious assault, as well as two unrelated drug charges. She faced up to 10 years in prison.
James testified that the brothers told her they were starting a group and the initiation required a murder. She said the brothers threatened to kill her unless she killed someone. James said she tried to shoot the 51-year-old woman but the gun malfunctioned and the woman escaped.
Baumoel said he thinks James was in a sense a victim that morning because she was influenced and threatened by the brothers.
“At the same time, factually, she had a gun. She pointed the gun at an innocent person and pulled the trigger,” he said.
Baumoel said James cooperated with police and testified, both before a grand jury and during the brothers’ trial.
Ray detailed James’ difficult upbringing, which included her being in foster care, attempting suicide and using drugs from the time she was 14.
“I’m surprised she survived as long as she has,” Ray said. “She’s a survivor.”
James read a statement during the sentencing that was nearly unintelligible because she was so emotional. She apologized for her actions and said she’d like the chance to participate in drug treatment.
“I respectfully ask for an opportunity to improve myself and become a productive member of society,” she said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, email@example.com and on Twitter@swarsmithabj.