Years of violent bullying may have led Montez Davis to fire a handgun into a crowd at a Chattanooga gas station, but his fear-laden past couldn't take back the bullet that killed an innocent 42-year-old man.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman sentenced the 20-year-old Davis to 21 years in prison Monday afternoon. Davis was convicted March 4 of second-degree murder.
During the sentencing hearing, Steelman weighed details of Davis' fearful young life against his role in the shooting death of Jonathan Lawrence to decide where in the 15- to 25-year punishment range he would land.
Davis' mother and cousin described threats and intimidation against him from local gang members, which began when he was in the sixth grade. The continual harassment eventually led to him being shot and later influenced him to drop out of high school, they said.
"Really, nobody in our city should have to endure that kind of thing," Steelman said before sentencing Davis.
The night of Jan. 9, 2010, Davis drove through the parking lot of the Kanku's gas station at 3440 Wilcox Blvd. Someone threw a beer bottle through the back window of his rented Jeep Patriot. Witnesses testified during the trial that Davis drove to the end of the lot, exited the vehicle and began firing into the crowd.
Davis maintains that he fired into the air. One of the bullets struck and killed Lawrence, who was pumping gas for tips at a nearby pump.
John Lawrence, father of the victim, spoke about his son during the sentencing hearing. The night of his son's death remains etched in his mind, he said, and he stood for hours looking at the crime scene.
"I had to see him laying out there like some animal," he testified. "It's something that's going to be with me forever; it's never going to go away."
After the hearing, Lawrence said testifying was "awful" but necessary so that Davis received a stiff sentence.
"It was emotionally draining, and I've never had to do anything like that before," Lawrence said, adding that he was satisfied with the judge's decision.
Curtis Bowe, Davis' attorney, has filed a motion for a new trial based mostly on lack of evidence to support a second-degree murder conviction. Steelman gave both sides 30 days to file amendments to the motion before he rules.
Assistant District Attorney Cameron Wallace said the 21-year sentence was appropriate for the verdict and he is confident Davis would not be granted a new trial.
Contact staff writer Todd South at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347.