In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017, staff file photo, Cortez Sims walks into Judge Barry Steeleman's courtroom at the start of his trial.

A judge declined Monday to extend the life sentence of a man convicted in a 2015 shooting that killed one, injured two and paralyzed a toddler.

"These facts are so egregious that the defendant ought to serve a life sentence," Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman said of Cortez Sims. "He ought to serve 60 years for what he did to these people, regardless of the fact that he was 17 and regardless of how he plans to rehabilitate himself."

A jury said Sims, then 17, opened fire inside a College Hill Courts apartment on Jan. 7, 2015, killing Talitha Bowman, injuring Bianca Horton and Marcell Christopher and paralyzing Horton's 2-year-old daughter Zoey Horton as part of a yearlong gang feud.

Jurors returned guilty verdicts in April for three counts of attempted first-degree murder, one count of employing a firearm during a dangerous offense and one count of first-degree murder, which carries an automatic life sentence.


Going into Monday's sentencing hearing, Sims, 20, already was serving that life sentence in the Tennessee Department of Correction. Defendants are eligible for parole after 51 years, so the question was did he need to serve additional time for his attempted murder convictions, a Class A felony that carries 15 to 25 years?

Prosecutors said yes and pointed to Sims' juvenile deliquency, his willingness to endanger numerous people by opening fire in a public housing site and Zoey Horton's permanent paralysis. Executive Assistant District Attorney Lance Pope said Sims also should serve six years for the gun employment charge. Among other witnesses, he called Sebrina Robinson, the mother of the 20-year-old Bowman, who died that night.

"I want you to suffer like I'm suffering for my baby," Robinson said. "I don't want your life, I just want you to suffer like my baby suffered. She's gone. I can't touch her, I can't tell her I love her. I can't even see that big, beautiful smile she had."

Defense attorney Joshua Weiss said Monday's hearing boiled down to a simple question: "Does he most likely die in prison, or does he definitely die in prison?" He called family members and friends who painted a different picture of Sims: A sweet child who grew up fatherless, who was sexually abused at age 4 and bullied into fights at school.

"The only thing Mr. Sims has left after today is hope and redemption," Weiss argued. "He says he will get his GED, he will work, he will better himself. And he may be able to come out and live his last few years on Earth. He's asking for nothing more than that, something to strive for, something to be redeemed from."

Though Steelman sentenced Sims to 25 years for each attempted murder charge, he decided to run them "concurrently" to the life sentence. That means Sims won't serve additional time for them because they're running at the same time, not separately.

"What haunts me the most about this is, what kind of hope does Zoey have?" Steelman asked. "Two years old, shot in the back, paralyzed. She'll live with that as long as she gets to live."

If he is ever released on parole, Sims will be at least 68 years old, Weiss said.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.