published Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

School bus stop shooting nets 6-year sentences

Lonta Burress Jr. and Darius Gustus turn to watch the first witness approach the stand during the opening of the 2012 school bus stop shooting trial. Burress and Gustus are accused of being involved in a drive-by shooting in 2010 that targeted students exiting a school bus. No one was injured in the event.
Lonta Burress Jr. and Darius Gustus turn to watch the first witness approach the stand during the opening of the 2012 school bus stop shooting trial. Burress and Gustus are accused of being involved in a drive-by shooting in 2010 that targeted students exiting a school bus. No one was injured in the event.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

Two teens were sentenced Tuesday to six years each for their involvement in a 2010 shooting at a school bus stop.

Defense attorneys, John McDougal for Lonta Burress Jr. and Galen Pickard for Darius Gustus, argued that their clients were eligible for house arrest or probation because neither had an adult criminal record.

But prosecutor Cameron Williams asked Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole to sentence the teens consecutively on all counts, saying the range on the most serious offense of aggravated assault wasn't enough.

"It just seemed to me for the actions that took place in December 2010 that three to six years is just not enough for what happened," Williams told Poole.

McDougal told the judge during his arguments that he plans to appeal the conviction, noting there were inconsistent statements from witnesses as to who was shooting the weapon and other information at trial.

In July, a jury found Burress guilty of aggravated assault, evading arrest, possession of a deadly weapon and theft.

Gustus was found guilty of aggravated assault, possession of a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment and evading arrest.

Burress, 18, was first arrested in the 2010 Coolidge Park shooting that injured five people. But charges were dropped when a key witness changed testimony in a Juvenile Court hearing that could have had Burress charged as an adult.

Prosecutors dropped charges in that shooting, and on Dec. 1, 2010, Burress and Gustus, 19, were arrested in the school bus stop shooting after a 10-minute police chase that ended in the crash of a stolen red F-150 pickup truck driven by Burress.

But Burress was released on bond while awaiting trial in that shooting and prosecutors now allege he shot and killed Darius Townsend, 17, on June 1, 2011, on the 900 block of Taylor Street.

In all three of Burress' cases reluctant witnesses have either changed their testimony or been difficult to find for court hearings.

Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or tsouth@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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