EVERETT — Two minutes.
Shaquille Jones could spend the next 40 years behind bars because of 120 seconds of bravado and violence. At 21, it was a path he seemed to choose without consideration for the consequences.
Those consequences came into sharp focus Wednesday inside a Snohomish County Superior courtroom.
His mom, 55, was in tears. She prays to God she will live long enough to see “her baby” outside prison walls. Jones’ 3-year-old son, his namesake, will grow up without a father at his side. Jones endured the same, a childhood with no dad at home. The mother of his son worries what to say to their boy, how it will shape him.
“I feel like it’s not fair that my son has to grow up without his father,” she said. “I don’t know what to tell my son.”
Jones opened fire last year outside a busy Taco Bell off Evergreen Way. He injured three people in a volley of bullets. He put dozens of others, including those in the restaurant, at risk.
Jones made a disparaging comment about another man’s pink bicycle. The men hurled insults. The bicycle owner took off his shirt and challenged Jones to a fight.
Jones pulled out a gun. He fired 13 rounds. Three men, including two bystanders, were hit.
Jones denied the shooting. The defense alleged someone else was behind the gunfire. Everett police arrested the wrong guy, jurors were told.
But a jury convicted Jones of multiple felonies, including assault with a firearm. Jurors heard that Jones was associated with a gang. They also heard that he attempted to intimidate a witness from testifying at trial.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery argued earlier this week that Jones deserved the maximum sentence allowed by law — nearly 49 years.
“The defendant’s actions showed a complete disregard for the value of human life,” Montgomery said.
Defense attorney Tiffany Mecca asked the judge for leniency. Her client was only 21 at the time. His brain was not fully mature, making him less able to control his emotions and impulses, identify consequences or make reasoned decisions, she said. She urged the judge to find mitigating circumstances to go below a standard range sentence.
Mecca argued that 20 years in prison would be enough time to ensure that Jones is mature enough to make good decisions. He’d be in his 40s.
“We don’t need to wait until he’s in his 60s,” she said.
Jones plans to appeal his conviction. Mecca advised him not to speak Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas had hoped to hear from Jones. He said he wanted to know how Jones described his friends, those who called themselves the Renegades, and their goals. What were their aspirations? How did he see himself getting there with these actions?
“In trying to decide how to make my decision in this case I really struggled. I struggled for many reasons, ” Lucas said. “The first reason I struggled with this case is because I am a black man in America and before me, having committed an extremely senseless crime, is a young black man.”
Yet the more he heard at trial, the more evidence that came out, the less he understood Jones, Lucas said.
And he worried that when the day came to sentence Jones he wouldn’t be able to reach him.
“I am a black man. I am a black judge and if I can’t reach you and your family and friends and explain what justice is then no one can and the prospect of not being able to do that made me have a deep sense of despair,” Lucas said.
That was particularly amplified given today’s climate, the judge said. Young black men are being gunned down by the police, Lucas said. Also the results of the presidential election might be interpreted by some as an affirmation of the oppression of minorities.
“I need to be able to tell you all whether you have been given justice here …” he added. “I am not blind to the fact that in our society today there is a double standard which has its roots in racism. The system treats black people and white people differently. Young black men go to prison at a rate that is disproportionate to whites.”
Lucas said he could see anger in the faces of those who came to support Jones. They might believe that the system is rigged against him.
“I’m here to tell you that’s not true,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he agonized over arriving at the right sentence and agonized over trying to understand what would compel a young man to get out of a vehicle and start shooting at people.
He reached the conclusion that Jones was driven by his need to follow a gang lifestyle — a misguided ideal that is entrenched in violence. Violence is consuming and futile, the judge said.
“Our society is racist and there is double standard against blacks, particularly black men. But the idealization of violence is not the proper response to racism,” Lucas said.
Lucas sentenced Jones to 40 years in prison, the low end under state guidelines. He told Jones the violence that erupted outside the Taco Bell cannot be condoned.
The judge declined to go below the standard range. In his closing statements, Lucas said he believes that the power to commute sentences should be in the hands of Superior Court judges. That power is with the governor based on recommendations by a state board. A Superior Court judge could monitor a defendant’s progress and decide whether to shorten a sentence. The Sentencing Reform Act assumes that people can’t grow or change, he said.
“I believe you are a human being. I believe you can change. I believe you can change your ideal,” Lucas said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.