A King County judge ruled Monday that a teenage boy charged in the murder of another Federal Way teen will be tried as an adult.
According to prosecutors, Tacoma resident Diante Pellum, 15, murdered 16-year-old Wesley Gennings, a Federal Way resident and Decatur High School student, on Feb. 13. Pellum, who was 14 when he was arrested after turning himself in, was charged with first-degree murder and illegal possession of a firearm.
Pellum’s alleged accomplice, Federal Way resident Michael Rogers, then-16, also faces murder and unlawful possession of a firearm charges. He will be tried as an adult as well.
Pellum’s decline hearing was held on Oct. 28 in juvenile court. Judge Regina Cahan heard testimony from the lead detective on the case, those familiar with juvenile rehabilitation, a woman who tested Pellum’s emotional and intellectual functioning in April, and Leilani Gennings, the mother of Wesley Gennings.
“My son’s life is worth more than five years,” she said, referring to the approximate amount of time Pellum would have spent behind bars if he was convicted as a juvenile.
Instead, Pellum could face 25 years or more for first-degree murder if convicted as an adult. Because he’s a minor, Pellum would spend time at Green Hill School in Chehalis, a secure facility for male juvenile offenders, until he turns 21. After that, the remainder of his sentence would be served at a Department of Corrections facility.
“If the respondent is tried as a juvenile offender and incarcerated up until his 21st birthday, there will be no community supervision or probation upon his release to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration,” Cahan wrote in her findings. “If he is released in advance of his 21st birthday, the maximum amount of community supervision allowed under the law is six months.”
Cahan considered the eight “Kent factors” from Kent v. United States, a U.S. Supreme Court case that outlines when and why a juvenile can be tried as an adult. She determined Pellum qualified for all but one: That he was not “sophisticated” or “mature” for his age.
In fact, a clinical psychologist with the King County Juvenile Justice Assessment team tested Pellum and determined his cognitive functioning is “at a much younger age, approximately 8-10, than his chronological age.”
However, the judge found other factors, such as his past criminal behavior, the violent nature of the crime, and his danger to the community, as grounds to try him as an adult and “in the best interest of the respondent and the public.”
News of Gennings’ death shook the community last winter after he was found with a fatal gunshot wound to the back of the head in the parking lot of a Taco Bell on 21st Avenue South. He was alone in a vehicle, but several witnesses had heard a gunshot and saw two males exit the vehicle just before police arrived.
Charging documents state the suspects and three unidentified witnesses planned to meet Gennings near the Taco Bell on Feb. 13 to rob Gennings of marijuana. Just after 8 p.m. that night, the time of Gennings’ reported death, Rogers and Pellum were picked up and taken to “water” to allegedly dispose of evidence.
During the drive, charging documents state Rogers handed one of the witnesses a bag containing several small baggies of marijuana. A unique embellishment on those baggies was later found on baggies obtained by police during a search of Gennings’ vehicle.
A witness told police that Rogers made a hand gesture that indicated a handgun was fired when Rogers was asked what happened.
Rogers was arrested at Thomas Jefferson High School on Feb. 19. He was carrying a loaded .22-caliber handgun.
The night he was arrested, Rogers allegedly told detectives that he had been inside Gennings’ vehicle the night of the murder and that Pellum was sitting in the back passenger seat while Rogers was in the front seat.
A witness also told police Pellum allegedly said he and “someone else” met Gennings for marijuana but they “didn’t like the deal” he made so they robbed him. He also told the witness that Gennings was a “man down.”
On Feb. 23, detectives interviewed two staff members at Pellum’s school, Saghalie Middle School, who said Pellum was rapping about “smoking someone” and “snitches get stitches” at school on Feb. 17.
Pellum was arrested after he turned himself in on Feb. 24.
Leilani Gennings said she’s had to call police twice since her son’s murder because Pellum and Rogers’ family have allegedly harassed her throughout the community. Detectives have also discovered threats via social media.
At the decline hearing on Monday, Federal Way Police Department Detective Michael Coffey said Pellum and Rogers were part of a group called “MTB” or “MT,” which had about 20 members. “Associates of the group,” he said, intimidate students to the point they’re afraid to go to school.
“MTB coordinates and organizes burglaries, robberies and theft of firearms,” Coffey said, adding several witnesses provided tips like this during Wesley Gennings’ memorials in February.
Police have tracked other criminal cases back to the group.
Leilani Gennings is heartbroken.
From the moment she became pregnant with her only son, she struggled.
“I was diagnosed with some medical issues that told me I could never have kids,” she recalled. “I got really, really lucky to get Wesley.”
Giving birth was also difficult. Leilani Gennings spent the week after her son’s arrival in the intensive care unit, as did her premature newborn.
Named after her brother, Wesley Gennings was active in sports, enjoyed working on his car, and coached when he was injured.
“Wesley was my life,” Leilani Gennings said. “I lived for him. Everything I did was for him, about him, surrounded him. And when you’re a parent, that’s what it’s supposed to be. Now I have to figure out how to live for me, and I don’t want to go on and do that, but I have to. I have to get justice for him.”
Leilani Gennings said she was “very happy” with the judge’s ruling that Pellum will be tried as an adult because.
“If not, then you’re giving him the opportunity to get out and do it again,” she said, adding that Pellum’s “past history” and apparent lack of empathy are indicators of that.
“In the community, we have all these children running scared,” she said. “You threatened children’s parents. You know what you were doing and you need to pay for what you did.”
To honor her son’s memory, Leilani Gennings is planning to launch a foundation that helps kids and families afford sporting equipment.
“Maybe we can help some other child or parent going through what I’ve gone through, as well as help the kids who are still in school, because a lot of them struggle to get the sports equipment they need and if the Wesley Gennings Memorial can help donate to that, that can help their parents and their child,” she said. “My son can’t fulfill his dream, but let’s make it so somebody else can.”
Wesley Gennings’ family intends to seek donations from nonprofits or sponsorships from companies such as Big 5 Sporting Goods to make that dream a reality.