KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — One defendant received a life sentence and two co-defendants were given prison terms of more than 100 years each Friday for their roles in the 2015 death of a teenage football player who received national praise for shielding friends from gunfire.
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword sentenced Christopher Drone Bassett to life plus 35 years; Richard Gregory Williams III to 143 years; and Kipling Deshawn Colbert to 109 years. Bassett and Colbert are 22. Williams is 23.
Bassett had faced an automatic life sentence required under Tennessee law after being found guilty of first-degree murder in the December 2015 death of 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson. The jury that convicted Bassett on Dec. 14 also found Williams and Colbert guilty of facilitating the shooting. Sword said during the sentencing hearing that he considered all the defendants "equally culpable."
"I understand the jury's findings and I respect their findings," Sword said. "They gave both these two gentlemen a large break because I think there was sufficient evidence for them to also say Mr. Colbert and Mr. Williams were guilty of first-degree murder."
Both Colbert and Williams were sentenced to 107 years for charges directly related to the December 2015 slaying. Colbert got an additional two-year term for an unrelated charge. Williams' 107-year prison sentence was added to a 36-year term he already was serving after getting convicted of attempted murder last year in the shooting of Larry North, who was a reluctant witness for the state in this trial.
Lawyers for all three defendants said they planned to file motions for a new trial. The jury had convicted Bassett on a total of 19 counts of various charges while finding Colbert and Williams guilty on 17 counts.
Dobson, who had been a promising football player at Fulton High School in Knoxville, was on a back porch with friends on Dec. 17, 2015, when shots were fired. Police said Dobson suffered a fatal gunshot wound while shielding two girls, who were unhurt.
That act of bravery drew national attention when Dobson was praised posthumously by then-President Barack Obama.
A slideshow featuring pictures of Dobson played on a courtroom wall during Friday's sentencing hearing.
Dobson's mother, Zenobia Dobson, spoke at the sentencing on her son's behalf and asked that all three defendants spend the rest of their lives in prison. She said that she's "forever changed and forever broken" by her son's death.
"I will see Zaevion again someday in heaven, but here in this world, he's gone," said Zenobia Dobson, who had a button with her son's picture pinned to her shoulder. "So these men should lose something, too. They should lose their freedom for the rest of their lives."
Zenobia Dobson also read a statement from Dobson's older brother, Zack, who was with Zaevion Dobson at the time of the shootings. Zack Dobson, who had run away from the gunfire, said he watched his brother bleed to death.
In his statement, Zack Dobson said he will "never ever be the same" and that he still has nightmares in which he sees his brother lying on the porch.
Although a single gunshot killed Dobson, prosecutors said during the trial that all three defendants were criminally responsible because they aided in the commission of the offense. Prosecutors said at least 34 shots were fired from at least four different guns in the attack, carried out in the Lonsdale section of Knoxville.
According to the state's case, a Knoxville man named Brandon Perry was angry that his mother had gotten shot earlier in the day and was accompanied by a group as he headed to Lonsdale to fire shots out of anger. Perry was killed in a separate shooting later that night.
"This was a planned hunting expedition," Sword said. "There were multiple members of this hunting party looking to make a kill, and the victims they chose were completely innocent kids who were doing nothing more than standing on a porch."
Defense lawyers had cited the youth of their clients while asking for leniency. T. Scott Jones, the lawyer representing Bassett, also said there was a lack of evidence to support the state's argument that the defendants participated in gang-related activity.