Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield pronounces sentence on convicted killer Christopher Bradshaw. He will serve life without parole in the deaths of two teenagers.
By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — Relatives of two teenagers gunned down in 2011 confronted their killer Thursday, denouncing him as evil and "of the devil."
Christopher Bradshaw, 27, was convicted on all counts related to the murders of Devonta Stembridge, 19, and Dion Brice, 16, after about two hours of deliberation by a Clayton County jury. Relatives gave impact statements before Bradshaw was sentenced to life without parole by Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield.
Bradshaw was convicted largely on physical evidence that linked him to the shootings and by testimony from his co-defendant, Michael Lewis Boykin Jr. Boykin faces the same charges as Bradshaw and awaits disposition of his case in the Clayton County Jail.
Prosecutors said Bradshaw killed the two because he was angry that Stembridge cheated him in a marijuana buy.
Stembridge's uncle, Raymond Leary, quoted from the Bible in telling Bradshaw he was "of the devil."
"'He who commits sin is of the devil,'" said Leary. "A murderer has no eternal life. The seed you have sown will produce one major harvest that will affect your family for years to come. You took someone's life. He was extremely loved."
Leary said Bradshaw is an embarrassment to the black community.
"You are an example of what black men should never become," he said. "You are the reason why people look down on black folks, why they look at us like animals and ignorant — because of people like you."
Where Leary maintained composure, a parade of female relatives weren't as calm. Through barely controlled emotions, Stembridge's cousin, Nedra Kendrick, told Bradshaw she hated him.
"I tried to tell Devonta that no one cares about you in the streets," she said. "I hate you. I look in your face and I see no (expletive deleted) remorse. You took these boys' lives and I want you to die. Someone in jail, I want them to do you. If I could come do it, I'd do it myself."
Stembridge's grandmother, Brenda Barthell, was unable to stop crying as she recalled the last time she spoke to her grandson, whom she often called "Sugar." She said she is unable to forgive Bradshaw.
"We've been in so much pain," she said. "People said it will get better but it's a forever pain with me. The last time I saw him, the family had gathered for Fathers Day at my house. He told me he was moving out and getting a place of his own and I tried to talk him out of it."
She said Stembridge told her he had to grow up sometime and be on his own.
"I told him that I knew that and that he could always come back home, he would always have a home with me," said Barthell. "Then he met you. He ran into the devil. You turned a gun on those two babies. I've asked God to help me find forgiveness but I can't forgive you. You are evil."
Bradshaw showed no emotion throughout the hearing but Morris Fair, one of his two defense attorneys, sobbed as he listened to the victims. When Bradshaw stood before Benefield, he apologized but maintained his innocence.
"If you only knew the truth," he said. "I'm a real child of God. We all know the truth. I've lost family members so I know the hurt and pain. I don't wish death on no man. I'm deeply hurt, I know how you feel. I got two boys of my own, 8 and 4, but I know one day I will be home."
Benefield was unmoved by Bradshaw's proclamation of innocence as she sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole.
"This is too much, too much — a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old killed in this county over drugs and money," she said. "It's just too much. Whatever they were doing on that day, they did not deserve to die. They deserved to live and have the opportunity to change their lives. They deserved better than what they got."
She told Bradshaw he could have just left the marijuana behind if he felt cheated in the deal, that killing was not the remedy.
"A slight over drugs and money cannot be worth the blood flowing in this county," said Benefield. "We've lost too many. This is a place of grief as well as justice. We come here every day and find out that another young person has been killed over drugs and money. It's not worth it, no matter what gangster rap says it is. It's not. It's not worth it."
Clayton County Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers said she was pleased with the verdict and scoffed at Bradshaw's protestations of innocence.
"It flies in the face of the evidence," she said.
Bradshaw is a suspect in a similar shooting death in his native Ohio, she said.
"The police up there were waiting to see what happened in our case," said Powers. "But he admitted to Michael Boykin he shot the man in the head. That was inside knowledge that had not been released to the public."
As far as Boykin's fate, Powers said prosecutors will consult with the victims' families.
"We'll have a conference with the family on how to proceed with Boykin," she said. "His version of events is supported by the evidence."