COMPTON (CNS) - Calling the case “tragic,'' a judge today sentenced two ex-cons to lengthy prison terms for the murder of a 3-year-old boy who was struck by gunfire during a shootout in the parking lot of a Compton liquor store three years ago.
Superior Court Judge Pat Connolly imposed the longest term – 103 years to life -- on Kevaughn Harris, noting that the now-30-year-old man armed himself with a gun before going to the liquor store with his girlfriend and his girlfriend's young son, Franklin Pon-Ros.
The judge said Harris fired first and then used the boy and the boy's mother as a “shield'' after his gun jammed during the Jan. 20, 2018, gunfight in the 2800 block of West Alondra Boulevard.
Co-defendant Dwayne Ward, now 32, was sentenced to 89 years to life after expressing remorse in court.
The judge said he believed that Ward's words “rang true,'' but noted that Ward had waited with a gun for Harris to come out of the liquor store.
Jurors convicted the two Compton residents in December 2019 of one count each of second-degree murder, attempted murder involving each other, shooting at an occupied vehicle and possession of a firearm by a felon, along with finding true gun allegations.
The panel deadlocked on gang allegations against the two, but the judge said he thought it was very clear that it was the motivation for the shootout at a time when people were going in and out of the store.
“This is a case that is as tragic a case that we will ever see,'' the judge said. “This did not need to happen.''
The toddler, who was in a car seat in the back seat of a car, was struck by the gunfire, but his mother was not injured.
Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies responding to a 911 call were sent to the 17200 block of South Central Avenue in Carson, where they found Harris and his girlfriend with the mortally wounded child, who was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Family members of the victim, including several of his young cousins, said in statements read in court that they couldn't believe it when they heard the boy had been killed, with one writing that it “felt like a nightmare.''
Ward surrendered to homicide detectives two days after the shooting, and Harris was subsequently arrested.
Harris, who was taken out of the courtroom at his request before his sentence was imposed, had a 2012 conviction for attempted robbery, while Ward had a 2013 conviction for robbery.
The judge -- who called the boy a “beautiful child'' -- said there were “no winners here in this courtroom,'' noting that “no one is going to be satisfied with what the court does today.''
“I don't think I could imagine what you've gone through,'' Connolly told the victims' family members at the end of the hearing. “To the extent the law can give you justice, we've tried.''
The judge had denied the defense's motion for a new trial on Jan. 22.
In a statement, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said, “The pain caused by the loss of a young child is unimaginable, more so when it's caused by senseless violence. Today's life sentences will ensure these men will never hurt another innocent victim again.''
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