Teen admits he killed 13-year-old on bike in Minneapolis
An Anoka, Minn., teen admitted Thursday to the 2011 mistaken-identity murder of a 13-year-old boy. Donquarius Davon Copeland, 19, acknowledged that he fired the .357 semiautomatic pistol that killed Rayjon Gomez and said he knew he'd hit somebody...
An Anoka, Minn., teen admitted Thursday to the 2011 mistaken-identity murder of a 13-year-old boy.
Donquarius Davon Copeland, 19, acknowledged that he fired the .357 semiautomatic pistol that killed Rayjon Gomez and said he knew he'd hit somebody.
"I shot two times," Copeland said under questioning by his defense attorney, Eric Hawkins.
Copeland's admission Thursday came in a plea bargain in the Aug. 24, 2011, death of Gomez, whose death shocked Minneapolis. The victim was riding piggyback on a friend's bicycle when he was shot.
For his plea to a charge of second-degree intentional murder and second-degree attempted murder, prosecutors will recommend a punishment of 34 years and two months in prison.
Another defendant, Derrick Deangelo Catchings, 17, of Brooklyn Park, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to more than 38 years in prison.
A third defendant, Kemen Lavatos Taylor II, 27, of Robbinsdale, is to go on trial Feb. 10 on two counts of first-degree murder (one alleging premeditation, the other alleging the shooting was intentional) and four counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Copeland, who was 16 at the time of the crime, had been scheduled to go on trial with Taylor. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors will call him to testify against his co-defendant.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office made the offer because "we got a sure-thing 410 months. That's a long, long, long sentence."
Under current practice in Minnesota, inmates serve two-thirds of their sentence before they are eligible for release. Copeland would be almost 42 years old before he would be let out and placed under supervision of a probation officer.
Members of Gomez's family sobbed during the brief change-of-plea hearing. But outside the courtroom after the proceeding, tempers flared between Gomez's family and Copeland's family.
As the two groups exchanged heated words, one member of Copeland's entourage remarked, "Everybody just lost somebody" -- a reference to Copeland going to prison -- and it prompted the victim's mother to cry out, "I'm never going to see my son again!"
A sheriff's deputy -- four had been in the courtroom during the hearing -- stepped in and sent the sparring families down separate banks of elevators.
Police say Copeland, Taylor and Catchings had gone out that August night aiming to avenge the recent wounding of Taylor's younger brother (identified in court documents as "J.T.") on Aug. 7 by a member of a rival gang. "J.T.," who had been shot in the arm in the incident, was with them.
They were cruising around in a van registered to a church pastored by the Taylors' father.
"We were going to go down there and shoot at people," Copeland responded to Hawkins when asked why they were driving around.
Prosecutors said that as Taylor drove, Copeland and Catchings passed a .357 SIG semi-automatic handgun back and forth.
"Taylor suggested that Catchings and Copeland stop 'talking' about shooting someone and 'just do it,' " Mabley wrote in an order last year.
About 9:30 p.m., they neared 17th and Russell avenues north in the city's Willard-Hay neighborhood and saw Gomez and two other youths on two bikes. Gomez was riding piggyback on one of the bikes.
Taylor parked the van, and Catchings and Copeland jumped out with the gun. At his plea hearing last year, Catchings admitted he fired three shots from a handgun, then handed the gun to someone else; at his plea hearing Thursday, Copeland said he got the gun from Catchings and fired twice.
"Did you think you hit anybody?" Hawkins asked.
"Yes," Copeland replied.
A bullet struck Gomez in the back and exited his chest. He jumped off, cried "I'm hit," ran down an alley and cut across a back yard. Investigators believe he died within minutes. His body was later found on a woodpile next to a house.
A 12-year-old who had been pedaling the bike Gomez was riding was struck in the right shoulder, but survived.
Catchings and Copeland got back in the van and Taylor drove off, the state claims.
The teen's killing outraged residents of North Minneapolis. Prompted by Gomez's death and the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy days before, then-Minneapolis Chief of Police Tim Dolan put extra officers on the street and issued a public appeal for help to solve the crimes.
Two days after Gomez was shot, Minneapolis police searched a home in the 2400 block of Lyndale Avenue North where Catchings and Copeland had been staying. There, they found the weapon used in the killing.
Catchings admitted at his plea hearing that Gomez was not the person they'd been searching for. Catchings and Copeland both pleaded guilty to second-degree counts of murder and attempted murder, and the charges say the shootings were intentional.
Copeland's sentencing is set for March 24; the plea agreement calls for 410 months on the murder count and 153 months on the attempted-murder conviction. Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Elizabeth Beltaos told Mabley the state would ask that the sentences run concurrently.