Four young men were sentenced to prison Wednesday for their roles in the burglary and beating death of a 96-year-old church deacon and World War II veteran in his East Side home.
Shaquar Pratcher, 18, and Elhajji Elshabazz, 23, who were convicted last month of second-degree murder at a bench trial, were sentenced to the maximum 25 years to life in the slaying of Levi Clayton.
Justice Feggans, 19, and Jordan McKinnon, 20, both of whom pleaded guilty to burglary and testified against the other two, were sentenced to prison terms of 15 years and eight years, respectively.
Feggans, a basketball star at Riverside High School, came up with the idea of breaking into the home but didn’t want to go in, prosecutors said. McKinnon was the getaway driver.
The four young men believed that the house on Longview Avenue was loaded with drug money because the woman who took care of Clayton was involved with drugs and had a brother who sold drugs, prompting the break-in on Nov. 24, 2012, and the vicious beating. Clayton died nearly five months later.
In imposing the sentences, State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns told Pratcher, who beat the elderly victim in his bedroom:
“The court hopes that you live to be 96 and think about Mr. Clayton every day.”
The judge noted comments by Pratcher’s attorney, Joel Daniels, that Pratcher came from a good family, that his mother moved her 13 children out of their gang-infested city neighborhood to Williamsville where Pratcher attended school before eventually returning to his old neighborhood where Daniels said he met “the wrong people,” including Feggans.
The judge told Pratcher that he was responsible for what happened to Clayton during the break-in, not his mother.
“It’s all on you,” he said. “You and your friends denied a decent man a peaceful death.”
The judge also dismissed Daniel’s statement that the defense had Pratcher take a polygraph test, which showed he was telling the truth when he said he did not attack the victim.
“You passed a polygraph, so what?” Burns said, noting that testimony at trial “says otherwise.”
Feggans had testified that after he and Pratcher entered the house, he left Pratcher with Clayton in the bedroom and that when he returned, he saw Pratcher standing over Clayton.
“I had to put the old man down,” Feggans said Pratcher told him.
The judge also cited video from one of the surveillance cameras on the home’s exterior that showed Pratcher and Elshabazz entering the backyard with a knife and gun, slitting the screen on Clayton’s bedroom window and running away when they saw Clayton.
The video also showed Pratcher returning with Feggans a short time later and Feggans boosting Pratcher up to the window, handing him the gun and then following him into the bedroom as Clayton tried to stop them by throwing a lamp at them.
“The video doesn’t lie,” the judge told Pratcher.
The judge also cited the video in sentencing Elshabazz, whose attorney, Joseph Terranova, had denied that his client was at the crime scene.
“The alibi was not believable,” Burns said, noting that the video showed Elshabazz trying to enter the home with Pratcher and returning later and then exiting the home.
Both Terranova and Daniels said they will appeal the convictions.
Both attorneys said they questioned whether the home invasion led to the victim’s death nearly five months later. Daniels cited records from the Veterans Administration Medical Center where Clayton died April 9, 2013. He said the records showed that he died of end-stage dementia, which he believed was unrelated to the injuries Clayton suffered during the break-in,
Before they were sentenced, all the defendants except Elshabazz apologized to the victim’s family.
“My heart goes out to Levi Clayton’s family,” Pratcher said.
Before Feggans was sentenced, his attorney, Jason L. Schmidt, told the court that a contract has been placed on his client’s life because he testified against his co-defendants.
Daniels, Pratcher’s attorney, in his comments to the court before his client was sentenced, told the judge that Feggans got “the sweetest of sweetheart deals” when he pleaded guilty to burglary carrying a 15-year maximum sentence.
He said the home invasion was Feggans’ idea. He called him a professional home invader who admitted at trial that he had been involved in 15 break-ins.
Assistant District Attorney Michael P. Felicetta said Feggans pleaded guilty before Clayton died. He said that without Feggans’ cooperation, the other defendants would not have been brought to trial.
The prosecutor said Pratcher was not offered a plea because he brought a loaded gun to the scene and was the one who beat Clayton, citing his admission that he could feel the victim’s jaw soften as he hit him.
The victim’s family attended the sentencings, but none addressed the court or commented afterward.