Demetrius Harris told the court Tuesday he didn’t remember stabbing his best friend during a street brawl, but he wanted to be held accountable for Demajhay Bell’s death.
Harris, 22, pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter. He was initially charged with murder in the death of his 18-year-old friend who died two days after Harris slashed his throat the afternoon of March 18, 2016, on Chaps Lane.
The plea negotiation called for a maximum prison term of 15 years, but Judge Michael N. Annis could have sentenced Harris to less time behind bars. Harris’ family and supporters who nearly filled the largest courtroom in the Augusta Richmond County Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Jr. Courthouse, described a young man tormented by what happened and one who deserved a second chance.
Harris and Bell were inseparable. They knew nothing of the feud between Harris’ sister and her friends and A’Lexis Cain and her friends, said defense attorney Katrell Nash. Harris was outside the family’s Chaps Lane home when he saw a mob of teens armed with homemade weapons advancing, Nash said.
He was trying to protect his family, but when someone broke his arm with a blow from a baseball bat, the extreme pain and disorientation caused Harris to see people all around him trying to attack him, Nash said. He was fighting to get back inside his home.
Bell was standing by himself, unarmed, Assistant District Attorney Ricky Coates told the judge. “He’s just a bystander. He was making the right decision by not getting involved,” Coates said of the athletic young man who planned to join the Marines.
He was sweet and loving and the kind of of person who never met a stranger, Bell’s family told the judge. At 10:37 a.m. on March 20, 2016, “my world stopped,” Twyla Bell told the judge. “I miss my baby. He didn’t get a chance to live his life.” She asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence.
Annis sentenced Harris to 15 years in prison followed by five years probation. He granted the defense’s request to sentence Harris under the First Offender Act. If Harris completes his sentence and does everything required of him, Annis said he believed Bell would have been the first person to say Harris paid his debt and deserved a second chance.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or email@example.com