Two men charged in connection with a 2019 homicide reached plea deals in exchange for lower sentences, court records show.
James Holmes-Hamilton, 32, was given four years of prison time in exchange for pleading guilty Monday to a charge of facilitating an attempted aggravated robbery, court records show. His original charge typically carries a prison sentence of eight to 12 years, according to court documents.
Dezmond Alexander, 21, faces a sentence of 15 to 25 years. Alexander was reportedly the shooter in the incident, according to court records. He is set to formally plead guilty to second-degree murder in a January hearing, a charge that can carry a sentence of 15 to 60 years.
Holmes-Hamilton and Alexander were charged in connection with the shooting death of Darrell Hill, 20, in 2019.
"He was the best kid ever," Kenwana Hill, the victim's mother, said by phone. "He always kept the family together. ... He was real respectful, and he loved helping people."
According to a police report, the shooting happened after Holmes-Hamilton, Alexander and others reportedly planned to rob Hill of 2 ounces of marijuana.
Two teen girls arranged to meet Hill at an apartment complex off Shallowford Road, the report said, and he got into their car.
Alexander then allegedly walked up to the car and told Hill to "give me everything," court documents state. He started shooting at Hill, who reportedly shot back, according to police. Hill got out of the car during the exchange, and court documents said both shot until they ran out of ammunition. Hill was hit and killed, and Alexander was hit in the foot by one of Hill's bullets, according to a plea agreement in Alexander's case.
Holmes-Hamilton had given Alexander a .380 pistol, but the two later switched guns so Alexander could use a 9mm handgun instead, court documents stated. Another person was involved in the shooting, according to court filings, but has not been identified.
Officers found Hill with a gunshot wound at the scene, and he later died from his injuries.
Plea deals reached in 2019 Chattanooga homicide
Though Alexander was under 18 at the time of the shooting, his case was moved to adult court, Sherman Byrd, Darrell Hill's grandfather, said by phone.
Two other defendants in the case, girls who were 16 and 17 at the time of the shooting, were charged in juvenile court, Byrd said. Police recommended charges of felony murder and especially aggravated robbery, the report said.
Information on their cases is sealed, since juvenile court cases are conducted behind closed doors and don't make records public in the same way adult cases do.
Kenwana Hill said not knowing what's going on in the juvenile court cases has left her disappointed.
"I can't talk to no one at the juvenile court, no one knows anything," Hill said by phone. "I'm very upset, because no one is helping me down there."
Juvenile court Judge Rob Philyaw did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Hill and Byrd, the victim's mother and grandfather, said they felt Holmes-Hamilton should have to serve more than four years in prison. That's the time he served while waiting for a conviction, meaning he has already completed his sentence.
"He planned this, they all planned this murder together," Kenwana Hill said. "I just really want justice for my child, and I think he should do more than four years."
Byrd said he feels it's unfair, adding he's seen others sentenced to longer prison terms for less serious crimes.
"The system is very bad, broken, and I hate to say that," Byrd said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make this a race thing. But Black-on-Black crime is treated differently in this city."
The local reaction to shootings between Black people is much less urgent than ones that involve white people, like the recent homicide of Chris Wright downtown, Byrd said.
"All of a sudden, the county mayor, the city mayor and the sheriff talking about how we're going to beef up downtown," Byrd said. "But you have a shooting in East Lake, in Alton Park, they're not saying they're going to put more patrol in this area. They didn't say nothing."
District Attorney Coty Wamp said it's ridiculous and offensive to accuse her office of treating cases differently based on race.
"We try cases all the time where the victims are of every race and background, socioeconomic status," Wamp said by phone, "where the victims are gang members, or convicted of crimes. We take a lot of pride in that. ... I typically will not justify our decisions, but there comes a time when I need to defend my office."
Wamp said her office considers many factors when entering into a plea deal — including the defendant's criminal history, cooperation and role in the case. Plea deals also mean the defendant can't appeal the decision, like they can after a trial doesn't go their way. That can mean more closure for a victim's family, since they aren't waiting years for appeals to go through, Wamp said.
"If we have a great case, if we think we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, we're more likely not to offer some sort of deal," Wamp said by phone. "For a case that has problems, and we're worried about losing at trial, we start to negotiate with the defendant."
In this case, Wamp said, Alexander is getting a longer prison sentence than Holmes-Hamilton because he was identified as the shooter.
"It has really been hell," Kenwana Hill said. "But we're trying to keep it strong. There are days when we cry a lot ... but we have to keep living."