In an emotional speech in front of a judge and a packed court room at Kent’s Maleng Regional Justice Center last Friday, Mariah Blair’s mother pleaded with the court to sentence Jerry Delon Jones to 20 months in jail.
It was a smaller sentence than he deserved, Toni Porter said, but as it was his first offense, 20 months was the most he could be sentenced to.
Instead, when the person he came to fight started to leave, he pulled out a handgun and fired into the crowd of juveniles, hitting 14-year-old Mariah in the leg. He shattered her knee, and after multiple reconstructive surgeries she still does not have the same range of motion she used to.
“She’ll never be able to run track like she wanted to starting high school,” Porter cried.
Mariah’s Aunt Sharina Leach also told the judge that she has had to watch her niece change in ways no family should see.
“I watched a once cheerful little girl… turn into somebody who I don’t even know anymore,” she said. “Please give justice today for my niece, because she’ll never have justice another day.”
Jones, who is also a new father, had pleaded guilty to a drive-by shooting, a seriousness level of 7 as Prosecuting Attorney Jennifer Phillips said, with a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or $20,000.
“But as we know, the mandatory sentencing range is 15 to 20 months,” she said, because this was Jones’ first criminal offense.
In this case, Phillips said the state asked for the high end of the sentence, 20 months in prison and a no-contact order between Jones and Mariah for the statutory limit of 10 years.
Phillips also said the state asked the court to support 18 months of community custody after Jones’ 20 months in jail.
However, Porter and Leach are disappointed in both the smaller sentence for Jones, and that he was only charged with a drive-by shooting and not an assault charge for injuring Mariah.
Porter expressed her concerns to the court that no matter what the outcome of the sentencing was, Jones was not truly paying for his actions.
“He’s being let away regardless with a slap on the wrist,” she said. “All I can say is that I hope that when he does get out … I hope he is never put in the position I am today with his child or anybody else in his life.”
Leach agrees with Porter that she feels “the ball was dropped in this case,” regarding the smaller sentence Jones received for his actions.
“My family will forever be affected by this,” she said. “There’s no words that can describe how furious I am that nothing more was done and that this gentlemen does not have to pay or answer to the crime directly towards my niece.”
She urged the judge to give Jones’ the max sentence, stating, “If he doesn’t learn now, he’ll be back in front of you within a year, and we don’t want that… for his child’s sake.”
The judge asked Porter how Mariah was doing after her surgeries, and Porter said her injuries are something she still struggles with.
“I don’t know how she’s doing mentally, she won’t talk,” Porter said. “She won’t say anything about it… she stays in her room, away from everybody.”
Porter can only hope that her daughter will be OK one day, and that Jones will learn from this and turn his life around.
Jones’ defense attorney Phil Pearson asked the judge to impose the 15 month sentence rather than 20 months.
Jones’ did not try to run from his sentence, Pearson said. He pleaded guilty and accepted the consequences of his actions.
Pearson also said the lower end of the spectrum was appropriate as well because Jones does not have any prior criminal activity on his record.
Jones also addressed the court and express his regret for his actions.
“I apologize to the victim and her family,” he said.
Jones told the court that he was put into a situation where he thought the way to handle it was to bring a gun to a fight.
“I felt I had to do it for myself,” he said. “I just ask for forgiveness, and I’ll never come back here… I accept responsibility for what I did.”
Jones’s mother and father also addressed the court, expressing their apologies to Mariah , and asking the judge to only give Jones a 15 month sentence. His father, Jerry Delon Jones senior, told the court their family is upset at Jones’s actions.
“He was raised better than that,” Jones’ father said. “Besides being in trouble here, he’s in trouble with his family, more than anything.”
Jones’ mother told the court that she knows her son is truly sorry for what his actions did to Mariah and her family.
“This is not a situation I would want to happen to anybody,” she said. “ I just want to say he’s a good person, regardless of the situation.”
After hearing statements from all sides, the judge imposed a sentence of 20 months and a $500 fine.
He said that on one hand, a young woman’s life has been altered forever, and nothing can change that, but on the other side, a young man made a reckless decision that has impacted his own life.
“Nobody’s going to win in this situation and nobody’s going to be happy in this situation,” he said.
Outside of the justice center, family members protested the reduced sentence, calling for stricter gun control and increased sentences for gun-related crimes. Porter said her daughter has had to miss out on so much of being a 14-year-old girl because of Jones’s actions.
“We feel as if the prosecuting attorneys has completely let our family down… being so light on charges,” she said. “Just because someone doesn’t have a criminal history doesn’t mean they won’t re-offend.”