A Michigan man convicted of fatally shooting a 9-year-old boy who witnessed him kill two other men at an apartment in Flint has been sentenced to life in prison.

Genesee County Circuit Judge Archie Hayman issued the sentence Monday to Deonte I. Gray. First-degree murder carries an automatic penalty of life behind bars without possibility of parole.

A jury in January convicted Gray in the July 15, 2013, shootings of 9-year-old Trashawn Macklin, 25-year-old James R. Allen Jr. and 22-year-old Akeem Easterling.

Standing beside Trashawn's crying mother, Freeman Elementary School teacher Laura Garrison told the judge her student was loved by all who knew him.

Authorities say the killings began with a dispute between Gray and Easterling.

Prosecutors earlier dropped a fourth murder charge against Gray after a witness disappeared.