Two Savannah, Ga., teens facing armed robbery charges in Augusta nearly risked spending the next 25 years in prison because they refused to testify against each other.
Their defense attorneys advised Benny T. Gary and Africk S. Morris, both 19, to plead guilty, and on Monday the judge allowed family members to implore the teens to take the plea offers, too.
Only when assured that they would plead guilty to a reduced charge of robbery did the sentencing go forward in Richmond County Superior Court.
The two admitted to taking part in the Sept. 10, 2014, robbery of Letitia Cropps, a crime that traumatized the victim, who had just completed training a week earlier to be a rape crisis volunteer.
She was supposed to be the one who helped others through a life-threatening event, Cropps said. Instead, she found herself needing help for post-traumatic stress disorder, which is still affecting her life.
Cropps told the teens that they needed to understand the harm they have done, but she said she understands how young they are and that they need a second chance.
Relatives of Gary and Morris expressed their shock and disappointment. The teens were brought up in the church, are smart and
full of potential, family members said.
The teens’ attorneys – Jesse Owen for Morris, Daniel Franck for Gary – asked Judge Daniel J. Craig to consider the time their clients have spent in jail since being arrested in September 2014.
Assistant District Attorney Pierce Blitch had agreed to cap any potential sentence at 15 years, and a lengthy prison term could mean the end of any chance of being productive citizens, Owen said.
Craig sentenced Morris and Gary to seven years in prison, followed by eight years of probation under the First Offender Act.
He promised he would resentence them to the maximum possible if they didn’t successfully complete their sentences.
A third teen, 18-year-old Chavantez Palmer, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.