City teen gets 50 years for killing Essex man

Victim's kin describe anguish since son, 20, died

February 22, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

Thirteen months ago, James Neil Rivers Jr. was fatally shot while confronting burglars outside his Essex home. Yesterday, his mother stood several feet from the man convicted of killing her son and told a judge that every day since then has been a struggle.

"We relive this night every day," Kim Rivers said in Baltimore County Circuit Court. "My husband comes home from work with his eyes reddened from crying at the cemetery."

Minutes later, a Baltimore County judge sentenced Deandre Lamont Williams, 18, of Northeast Baltimore to 50 years in prison for the crime. Williams was convicted in December of second-degree murder and other charges.

Rivers, who was 20, had been a three-sport athlete at Kenwood High School and was working as a mechanic. About 7:45 p.m. Jan. 19, 2006, Williams and two other men showed up at Rivers' home on Cedar Road to steal an all-terrain vehicle in a shed, authorities said.

Next door, Rivers' father, James Neil Rivers Sr., heard his dog bark, went outside and grabbed a spotlight from his truck. He shined it on his son's shed and saw several men trying to get in. As the men ran, Rivers Sr. called his son on a cell phone, the father recalled yesterday.

Rivers Jr. and his 10-year-old brother walked out of the house, and Rivers Jr. asked the men what they were doing.

One of them, named by prosecutors as Williams, grabbed a semiautomatic handgun from his waistband and shot the younger Rivers in the stomach, the father recalled. His younger brother was standing next to him.

As Rivers Jr. collapsed, his father chased the burglars, who were running toward a sport utility vehicle down the street, the elder Rivers said. The shooter turned around and fired at the father, who was yards away, but the bullet missed, he recalled.

The men jumped in the SUV and drove away, but the elder Rivers memorized the license plate.

Chaunisty Terrell Wallace, 27, of Essex pleaded guilty to attempted theft and is awaiting sentencing. A 21-year-old man from Baltimore also was arrested in the case, but charges against him were dismissed.

Before sentencing Williams yesterday, Baltimore County Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz called the crime a "senseless tragedy." He said he was imposing the sentence as a way to prevent Williams from victimizing others.

"There's nothing that makes sense about this," he said. "A young man's life is taken for nothing. For nothing."

Yesterday's sentencing capped an emotional hour in court in which a man sitting with the victim's family bolted from the courtroom during a statement from the defendant's lawyer.

Williams showed little expression during the hearing. He wore a white T-shirt and jeans. He occasionally glanced toward the prosecution table as Rivers' relatives gave victim impact statements.

Asked whether he had anything to say, Williams turned briefly to the family.

"I'd like to say that I apologize for your loss or whatever," he said, prompting sighs and whispers from people sitting with the Rivers family. "There's nothing I can do or say to change it."

Prosecutor Lisa Dever said Williams has a juvenile record going back to his early teenage years.

Assistant Public Defender Kimberley McGee described Williams as a boy who was quickly swept up in street violence after his father was killed when he was 7.

"He has seen death all around him, your honor, and no one makes a big deal of it in his world," McGee said.

She said Williams became the person he is because he had no positive influences in his life.

At one point, a man sitting with the Rivers family stood up and turned toward the door, muttering, "I'm getting out of here before I get thrown in jail."

Williams' grandmother, Garnater Wilson, called her grandson a "follower" and told the judge she had probably "failed" somehow in raising him.

She urged the judge to be lenient. His grandfather and aunt were the only other members of his family in the audience.

On the other side of the room sat more than 20 family members and friends of Rivers.

During victim impact statements, Rivers Sr. held plaques honoring his son. "Every day, you wake up, you figure out how to get through that day," he said.

Relatives recalled the younger Rivers as a muscular man with a strong work ethic, who stuck to his principles.

"If you were doing something wrong as a friend, he'd be dead in your face telling you you were screwing up," his father recalled. "And 15 minutes later, if you needed the shirt on his back, he'd give it to you ."

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