November 24, 2010

SEX v. DRUGS: Betts murderer sentenced for 40 years

A 19-year-old who shot well-known Principal Brian Betts was sentenced to 40 years in prison Tuesday after an emotional hearing at which Betts's friends and family said the suspect was just the kind of teenager whose life Betts could have turned around.

"It's truly a shame that the defendant didn't meet Brian earlier in his life," Gary Dwyier, Betts's friend of 15 years, said in court. "He inspired [students] to change the direction in their life from bad to good. . . . Perhaps this horrible tragedy would never had taken place."

As a teacher and principal, Betts helped countless students, and in doing so became a face of school reform efforts in the District. He was killed seven months ago inside his home. Four people were originally charged with murder in the case. Prosecutors have worked out plea deals with Alante Saunders, the man who was sentenced Tuesday; and Sharif Lancaster, 19, who pleaded guilty Tuesday morning to lesser charges of robbery and using a gun in a violent crime. He could face up to 35 years in prison when he is sentenced.

The cases against Joel Johnson and Deontra Gray, both 19, have yet to be resolved. For weeks, it has been clear that Saunders shot Betts. He also appears to have been the one who set up Betts. On the evening of April 14, Saunders called a sex chat line with the intention of looking for a robbery victim. He used a phone belonging to Lancaster's girlfriend at the time, according to information revealed in court Tuesday.

Saunders exchanged messages with Betts and pretended to set up a personal meeting with him. Betts was to leave the front door open and be waiting for him. All four suspects drove to Betts's house in Silver Spring, according to prosecutors.

Saunders went into the house first and went upstairs. Lancaster was the second person in the house and left a fingerprint behind, according to prosecutors. At some point, he went upstairs and saw Saunders, armed with a gun, robbing Betts.

Saunders's attorney, David Felsen, said in court Tuesday that the gun accidentally went off. "There was no intent to commit any type of homicide," he said.

Saunders, who pleaded guilty to felony murder this month, also spoke, apologizing to Betts's family and friends. He said he understood their view that 40 years might be too short of a sentence.

"I didn't go there meaning to harm him in any way," he said. "And it was just over basically getting money for drugs. Drugs was the powerful force in this situation and I am very sorry." SOURCE: Washington Post

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