(Editor’s Note: This story has been edited from its original version to correct an error.)
ELYRIA — The day before his trial on aggravated murder and murder charges was to begin in Lorain County Common Pleas Court, Gevonte Thomas admitted to killing Keshawndrae “Key” Carter during a drive-by shooting near Beech Avenue in Lorain in July 2017.
Thomas, 22, pleaded guilty to one count each of involuntary manslaughter and discharge of a firearm on or near prohibited premises, both first-degree felonies, two counts of felonious assault, both second-degree felonies, and one count each of tampering with evidence and having weapons under disability, both third-degree felonies, along with several firearms specifications. Judge Chris Cook immediately sentenced him to 17-and-a-half years in prison, which means he may be released before he turns 40.
Assistant Lorain County Prosecutor Chris Pierre said that sentence worked out to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and seven-and-a-half years prison for discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, which was one of the firearms specifications attached to the involuntary manslaughter charge.
Carter, 19, was leaving church July 2, 2017, and on his way to invite his girlfriend’s brother to a family barbecue when he was shot in the back by Thomas from a vehicle passing on the street, Pierre said.
Thomas “didn’t wake up that day” planning to kill Carter, Pierre said, but also said the court and the public should “remember Mr. Carter” as an innocent victim.
Pretrial negotiations between Thomas’ attorney, John Toth, and the prosecutor’s office led to the plea agreement, Pierre said. He said Carter’s family and the Lorain Police Department also were consulted.
Prosecutors dropped aggravated murder and murder charges against Thomas, and the felonious assault and discharge of a firearm at or near a prohibited premises were merged with the other charges for the purposes of sentencing.
Thomas will not be eligible for judicial release or other early release due to his prior violent criminal record, which includes a conviction for a robbery he committed in 2015. Firearms specifications always result in mandatory prison time, Pierre said.
In a victim impact statement, Carter’s mother, Cassandra Marr, said she wanted the court to be aware, “to be reminded how this happened, how senseless this was.”
“There wasn’t any reason for it to happen. It was a senseless, senseless situation. He lost his life and it’s been really rough for the family, as anybody could imagine,” she said. “It would be a lot easier if he was sick or something had happened to spark this, but none of that was the case since it was a senseless drive by. It’s been really tough for the family. It’s tough to be here. It’s really tough.”
Marr, who got her college degree in criminal justice from Ohio State University, said her 10 years working in the corrections industry led her to think about how she wanted her son to grow up.
“I always said to myself I never wanted to be the parent on the other side, watching my child go through this,” she said, “and I feel for (Thomas’) family, too. But now that I’m on the flip side, I would rather have my son here.”
Marr told the court she hopes Thomas takes the life he now has “and makes an impact in some type of way.” She then turned and faced him directly.
“Gevonte, you still have your life, and I don’t know what you’re going to do, but I pray that because you do have your life that you will live it to the fullest because my son can’t do that, and I know everything happens for a reason, but I was just hoping that because you still have your life to live, your mom can still go visit you,” she said.
Thomas grew emotional as Marr spoke, and wiped tears from his eyes. He later turned to Carter’s family members, tearfully apologized to them for Carter’s killing and thanked them for giving their approval to his plea deal.
“I’m sorry, and I thank you for agreeing to the plea,” Thomas said through tears. “He was a great dude and I’m sorry.”
Toth apologized to the victim’s family for how long it took the case to make it through the court and recalled how Thomas expressed remorse for Carter’s death almost immediately after their first meeting.
Thomas “said your son was absolutely wonderful,” Toth told Marr. “You’re allowing him to be a father, and that means the world.”
Cook praised Marr for her courage in standing up in the courtroom, telling her son’s story and showing love, charity, forgiveness and hope for her son’s killer.
“The community should know the charity and kindness in your heart,” he said.
In addition to the prison term, Cook gave Thomas credit toward his sentence for time served awaiting trial, ordered Thomas to first pay the cost of Carter’s funeral — it cost about $5,000, Pierre said — and ordered him to pay the cost of prosecuting the case.
Thomas already is serving three years in prison in an unrelated robbery case after he pistol-whipped and robbed a male victim in Avon Lake on May 30, 2015. In that case, an Avon Lake man called police and reported he was robbed in the 500 block of Rockwood Court by three men after being beaten in the head with a pistol.
The U.S. Marshal’s Service Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force arrested Thomas on July 17, 2017, as he arrived at the Lorain County Justice Center in Elyria for sentencing in the robbery case, according to Chronicle-Telegram archives.
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