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A tale of two different crimes, one tragedy, one punishment
BY NOELLE CROMBIE and ANNE SAKER
Trevelle Taylor used a gun to kill a teenager at a bus stop. Dontae Hunt toted a weapon to deal drugs. In Portland on Friday, their cases ended in different courts with different judges under different rules. But now their lives are marked by the same number.
At 8:30 a.m., on the 14th floor of the U.S. District Courthouse, Hunt, 24, stood before Judge Anna Brown, who knew the story.
Three years ago, Hunt was traveling in a Volkswagen Jetta that two police officers pulled over in North Portland. The car was still moving when Hunt leapt out and ran, kicking off his shoes and tossing away a Glock semiautomatic pistol.
He also ditched a bag and kept running. Police picked up the gun and the bag, which held an ounce of crack cocaine. Then they found Hunt.
By the time a federal grand jury indicted him on weapons and drug charges, Hunt was out of jail and gone. For more than a year, he was a fugitive.
Then in September 2003, Portland cops tracked Hunt down, watched him climb into a Range Rover and tailed him. When they tried to stop him, Hunt again bolted.
He jumped a fence, ran to the door of an apartment building, stashed something and took off again. He was arrested two blocks away.
Police went to the apartment building and found an ounce of crack cocaine and a Glock semiautomatic pistol.
In December 2004, Hunt came before Judge Brown to plead guilty to two counts of possession with the intent to distribute more than 5 grams of crack cocaine and one count of carrying a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime.
Given the combination of drugs and guns and his criminal record, Hunt faced a prison sentence of decades.
On Friday, a nervous Hunt told Brown he was at a loss for words. He was astounded by the sentence he could get.
"I can't cope with it," he said. "I didn't hurt nobody."
Across Lownsdale Square from the federal courthouse, Trevelle Taylor accepted the price for taking a life.
Seventeen members of his family packed one side of Courtroom 312 in the Multnomah County Courthouse; on the other side sat the grieving family of Marcus Mill, who was 16 the day he died, April 9, 2004.
About 2 p.m., Mill and Taylor, then 18, were riding the No. 4 Fessenden bus in North Portland. They did not know each other. Witnesses told police that Taylor was trying to pick a fight, and Mill ignored him.
When Mill alighted from the bus at North Albina Avenue and Killingsworth Street, another rider praised the teen for not rising to the bait.
Taylor got off at the next stop, and in a matter of minutes went into a house, came out, approached Mill at the bus stop and shot him. Mill dropped to the ground, dead.
Police charged Taylor with murder with a firearm. If a jury had convicted him of that crime, Taylor would have faced life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
But Friday, he came before Circuit Judge Michael McShane to accept an agreement from the district attorney: In exchange for pleading guilty to the lesser offense of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm, Taylor would get a shorter sentence.
With a nudge from his lawyer to stand, Taylor faced Mill's family.
"I'm truly sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to kill him; honest to God, I didn't. You cannot replace him, and I apologize."
At Hunt's sentencing in federal court, Judge Brown watched intently as Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Sussman explained the penalty the government sought.
In the world of federal sentencing guidelines, Hunt was a three-time loser: With two prior drug trafficking convictions, he was eligible for a sentence that could range from more than 24 years to life in prison. Sussman asked for 30 years.
Brown was skeptical. "Why is a 30-year sentence necessary?"
Sussman said Hunt is an unrepentant drug dealer who carried a gun, ran from the cops and remained a fugitive, "someone who does not learn from his mistakes."
"The government views this as a very aggravated case," Sussman said.
Hunt's lawyer, James Lang, said his client struggled to understand the severity of the sentence he was facing. Hunt, he said, was a "young man who never had a chance to get off the ground."
The judge then said to Hunt: "It's real easy to blame others for the fact that you're having to face up to some very serious consequences right now."
Congress, she said, wanted to crack down on gun and drug crimes with stiff sentences. But federal judges have discretion in each case. For Hunt, Brown concluded that 30 years was too long.
Across the square in the state courtroom, Judge McShane, who had overseen the plea negotiations for Taylor, looked at the young man and said, "This was an absolutely senseless killing."
The judge recalled that as they opened their talks, "I didn't think you were going to come around and take responsibility. ... You're growing up some."
Two hours apart, Brown and McShane handed down the same sentence:
One man with a gun pulled a trigger and killed. One man with a gun tossed the weapon while on the run from police. They each got 20 years in prison.