Judge Kenneth Fishman sentenced Tarayiah Hunt to life in prison and Ernest Watkins IV to four to five years on Monday. The pair were convicted in the 2012 murder of Cherby LaJoie.
Watkins, 17, will be held in the Department of Youth Services until he turns 18, when he will be transferred to state prison. Hunt, 23, will be eligible for parole after 15 years.
Hunt and Watkins were part of a group that beat and stabbed 39-year-old LaJoie more than 40 times on Charles Street in Dorchester, according to a press release by the Suffolk District Attorney’s Office. Watkins was 14 at the time.
Jurors decided to convict the two on charges lesser than first-degree murder, after deliberating for four days.
Hunt was convicted of second degree murder. The Commonwealth’s Assistant District Attorney Craig Iannini told the court that the cut she got on her hand during the altercation was proof that “she was intimately involved.” Because the fatal stabbing of LaJoie was gruesome in nature and was a random attack in the middle of the night, Iannini said that Hunt should be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years.
In response, Hunt’s defense attorney Timothy Bradl asked the judge to consider his client’s “individual culpability.” The Commonwealth’s recommended 25 years should be reduced to 15 years, Bradl said, as there was no way Hunt could have controlled the group of stabbers.
He further asked the judge to consider that Hunt was “deprived of guidance that most of us have the privilege of growing up [with].” The 23-year-old had a rough childhood, Bradl continued. At age 14, her father left her family.
Despite not graduating from high school and having lived on the streets, Hunt tried to change, her lawyer said. She recently joined the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, where she helped children with their homework and changed babies’ diapers.
Hunt declined to speak in court and instead looked straight ahead at the judge.
Iannini, the prosecutor, recommended 12 to 15 years in prison for Watkins, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He also noted that the Commonwealth recognizes that the public needs to be protected from such “random attacks of a vicious kind.” By the time Watkins would be released, though, he would be in his 30s, a young age that gives Watkins the possibility of reform, Iannini said.
However, Watkins’ defense attorney Janice Bassil said that the court failed to consider Watkins’ age and argued that sentencing him to adult prison is morally and ethically wrong. Rather than 12 to 15 years, Bassil argued that he should only be sentenced to 29 months.
“At age 14, Ernest Watkins was at the epitome of poor judgment,” Bassil said. “At age 14, Ernest Watkins was physically, neurologically, biologically still developing.”
And just as any other teenager, 14-year-old Watkins was under the “greatest height of peer pressure,” according to Bassil.
Fishman agreed that “the defendant’s age at the time should not and cannot be ignored,” as young people are often volatile and easily influenced by peer pressure. Although Watkins’s positive attitude is an important factor, Fishman said that incarceration is inevitable to “reflect just punishment.”
The court cannot forget about LaJoie, Fishman said, as “the value of every human life is incalculable.” Hopefully, the judge added, this will deter such conduct in the future and reduce any influences of other adults who would encourage him to take part in immoral conducts.
Gesturing towards Watkins who lowered his head throughout the trial, Bassil said that he is not the same 14-year-old she met at the time of his arrest.
Two and a half years ago passed since his arrest and he has slowly changed, said Bassil. Watkins started going to DYS and became more enthusiastic about studying.
Watkins told Bassil that he wanted to finish high school and become a physical education teacher one day. Before the sentencing started, Watkins had asked Bassil to tell the court that he feels bad for LaJoie’s death and he can and will change for the better. According to Bassil, Watkins felt more upset about Hunt’s sentence than he was about his own sentence.
Bassil said Watkins needs to be where his role models are, like his college-educated sister who now teaches in Boston and his other family members. Behind, his two parents who rarely spoke to each other for years sat side by side watching their son’s back as Bassil sat down and the judge started to read his sentence.