Defense attorney says sentence in Silver Spring murder case excessive'
19-year-old gets 30 years in prison for role in murder of D.C. principal
The attorney for a man sentenced to 30 years in prison today for the 2010 murder of a District principal who lived in Silver Spring believes her client's sentence was unjust.
Deontra Q. Gray, 19, of the 1300 block of Southview Drive in Oxon Hill, faced a maximum sentence of 35 years after pleading guilty Jan. 26 to robbery and the use of a handgun in a violent crime. Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Eric M. Johnson sentenced Gray to 35 years but withheld five of those, said Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office spokesman Seth Zucker.
Barbara Graham, Gray's defense attorney, suggested that if the case had a lower profile, Gray could have received a lighter sentence.
"It's 15 years above the top of the guidelines so we think it's clearly excessive," she said. "When it's a high-profile case with a victim who is well-known in the community, it shouldn't be, but it is [perceived as] worse."
Gray was among four men charged in the April 2010 murder of Brian K. Betts, 42. Betts was found shot to death in his home in the 9300 block of Columbia Boulevard after a co-worker at Shaw Middle School went to check on him after he failed to report to work.
Graham said she would consult her client to find out whether or not he is interested in seeking a lighter sentence.
"There are a few things we can do; one is we can obviously ask the judge to reconsider the sentence, and the other thing we can do is file a motion to a three judge panel ... who will look at this whole sentencing procedure and they can increase the sentence, they can lower the sentence or they can leave it the same," she said. "I haven't even had a chance to fully explain [those options] to him, but we have 30 days."
Two of the other men charged in Betts' killing have also been sentenced. Alante Saunders, 19, of the 2800 block of Shipley Terrace in Washington, D.C., was cited by police and attorneys as the ringleader of the robbery and was also the man holding the gun when Betts was shot to death April 14. Saunders pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Nov. 8 and was sentenced to 40 years in prison Nov. 23.
Joel D. Johnson, 19, of the 4300 block of Third Street in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty Nov. 30 as an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and was sentenced March 31 to 18 months in prison.
Sharif Tau Lancaster, 19, of the 5300 block of Fifth Street in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty to robbery and the use of a handgun in a violent crime Nov. 23. A date has not been set for Lancaster's sentencing, Zucker said.
Prosecutors Mary C. Herdman and Sherri D. Koch did not return calls for comment Thursday.