WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Three men convicted of the gang rape of a West Palm Beach woman and the beating of her young son were sentenced to life in prison Tuesday.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Krista Marx sentenced Jakaris Taylor, 17, and Nathan Walker, 18, to life in prison while Tommy Poindexter, 20, was sentenced to life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison. A fourth defendant, Avion Lawson, 16, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in December.
The four were convicted of barging into the then-35-year-old woman's West Palm Beach apartment in 2007 and raping her repeatedly, then beating her then-12-year-old son and forcing her to perform oral sex on him. They then doused the two in chemicals and left when they could not find a match.
Authorities say fingerprints and DNA found on clothing and condoms in the apartment identified the defendants, who were juveniles at the time of the crime.
The courtroom, packed with family members of the defendants, erupted after the sentence was read, despite Marx's admonishment that those who could not control themselves should leave beforehand. After Poindexter scuffled with a corrections officer, his brother, Masterson Poindexter, yelled out, "What the (expletive) are you doing to my brother."
Then the 13-year-old half brother of Taylor ran past stunned officers and deputies and opened a back door where his brother had been led in shackles. The crying boy was detained by deputies but later freed.
Defense lawyers had argued that the men were juveniles at the time of the crime and sentencing juveniles to life in prison amounts to cruel and unusual punishment — something that does not even occur in Iraq and North Korea. They noted that two similar cases are currently before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Both Public Defender Carey Haughwout, who represents Poindexter, and Robert Gershman, who represents Walker, said they would file motions for new trials and appeal.
Haughwout said she was "disappointed" with the sentence but Gershman said he was not surprised. "I was expecting life based on the facts of the case," he said.
In a statement, State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said, "Today, justice was done for the mother and child who were the victims of a brutal, vicious attack on their bodies and their characters. The blameless in this case are the victims who will likely never fully move beyond one's worst nightmare made all too real."
McAuliffe commended the victim for her "great courage and resolve" in aiding the investigation.
The victim was not present at the sentencing. However, prosecutor Aleathea McRoberts read a letter from her in which she said she and her son were still suffering greatly. In the letter, the victim said she is afraid to leave the house, seeing a psychologist and has been treated for cervical cancer — which she believes is due to the chemicals the defendants put inside her. She said her son is also seeing a psychologist and feels guilty that he could not protect his mother.
The defense attorneys and two psychologists who testified for them argued that the youths were products of troubled upbringings. One was born cocaine addicted, another lost his father at a young age and another was constantly beaten by his grandmother.
Taylor's mother testified that she had been treated for mental illness and alcoholism, and herself was raped twice. "I don't want him to get life," she told Marx. "Every child deserves a second chance."
Taylor's father testified that he was in and out of recovery for drug addiction, saying, "I've battled my own demons." "I'm asking you to give him a second chance and take into account what he has endured," said Nathan Taylor Sr.
But McRoberts countered that, "there is a huge population of kids who were raised by single moms without much money who don't have jobs that never go on to commit crimes."
"This community has a right to be protected from these juveniles," she said. "Short of killing this woman and her son, there is not much worse they could have done."
Judge Marx agreed.
"This was not a garden variety crime by any means." She said. "It was designed to instill fear and invoke terror and gave you all pleasure and excitement. Most of us have a moral code and refrain from wrongdoing. I can only surmise that none of you have a moral code."