Man gets 32 years in Chicago student's slaying

AP News
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Posted: Mar 24, 2011 6:33 PM
Man gets 32 years in Chicago student's slaying

Each time the video was played in court, spectators turned away at the sight of a young man bending his legs and jumping into the air near a teenager sprawled on the ground after being punched, kicked and hit over the head with a wooden board.

On Thursday, a judge cited the video of the 2009 attack that was seen around the world after it was posted online, saying that those few seconds when prosecutors say Silvonus Shannon leaped onto the head of 16-year-old honor student Derrion Albert justified the 32-year prison sentence he was handing down.

Cook County Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford said while it was impossible to know whether Shannon actually killed Albert when he stomped on his head, it did not matter. What mattered, he said, was that when Shannon jumped in the air he crossed a "hard line" that can't be crossed. He violated a code, the judge said, that says "once a man was down he wasn't assaulted any more. He's out of it."

The sentence was the latest chapter in the story of a brutal incident that became synonymous with the kind of violence that was claiming Chicago high school students at a terrifying rate _ more than 20 deaths in a six-month period.

The sight of Albert, trying to defend himself against waves of attackers, being knocked to the ground, staggering up and unable to cover his body from all the kicks and punches, prompted the police department and the school district to take steps of security around schools,. At the same time, in Washington, President Barack Obama dispatched two top Cabinet officials to the city to discuss ways to quell the violence.

Five young men were charged, four as adults and one as a juvenile The juvenile has already been convicted and one of the other adults pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, with two others still awaiting trial.

Shannon stood trial in January and a jury convicted him of first-degree murder after only a few hours of deliberations, a clear signal that they had little trouble discounting the contention by Shannon and his attorney that he did not actually land on Albert's head.

On Thursday, while there was some talk about whether Shannon landed on Albert, another student at the same high school on the city's South Side, most of families of both victim and assailant talked about what was lost that afternoon in September of 2009 a few blocks from the high school.

Responding to all the media reports that included references to Albert's good grades and his desire to go to college, Shannon's cousin, Leona Shannon said, "He wants to go to college, too."

Albert's family reminded the judge that this was the year Albert's future would begin to unfold, with his graduation from Fenger High School.

This should have been a time, said Bonita Braxton, when the family might have been asking Albert about his prom, his test scores and what college he was hoping to attend.

Instead, "We are asking for justice," she said. "We will never get to see his dreams come alive."

Albert's mother told Shannon that nothing he could say would make any difference to her.

"There's no apology you could ever give to me that I would forgive you," she said. "You helped destroy a family."

Shannon did try to apologize.

"I'm genuinely sorry for what happened and I hope you can forgive me," he said, standing in the courtroom, his body turned to Albert, her father and other relatives.

Byman had asked the judge to impose the minimum sentence of 20 years and not the 60-year maximum. He said that even the jury, after reaching a verdict, had asked the judge to show some mercy toward Shannon.

Shannon, though, seemed to know by the time Ford told him his sentence, that he wouldn't be sentenced to 20 years in prison. His head was already in his hands when Ford imposed a 32-year sentence _ or six years more than the man who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder earlier this year.

When it was over, Ford allowed Shannon to hug his mother.