BELLEVILLE — Assistant State's Attorney Steve Sallerson argued that life without parole was the right sentence for cop killer Lemuel Houston, who murdered Centreville Police Lt. Gregory Jonas in 2009 by shooting him four times in the head.
Defense attorney Tom Q. Keefe III argued that life and the high end of a second option -- 20 to 60 years -- were inappropriate, given a finding by two mental health professionals that his client was mentally impaired to the extent he ranks in the bottom 0.5 percent of the general population in mental acuity.
On Tuesday in St. Clair County Court, Circuit Judge John Baricevic dipped below the maximum, but not by much, sentencing the 25-year-old Houston to 53 years in prison.
With credit for three years already spent in the county jail, Houston, who will have to serve all of remaining 50 years, won't be eligible for parole until he is about 80. Baricevic said he would ask the Department of Corrections, as Keefe had requested, to ensure that Houston receives mental health counseling while in prison.
Centreville Police Chief Steven Brown, who was one of seven Centreville officers to attend the sentencing, said, "I would have liked to have seen life without parole. But I think justice was served."
Houston declined to make a statement before he was sentenced.
"Sanity is not an issue," Baricevic said before he pronounced sentence, referring to an agreement in July that Houston pleaded guilty but mentally ill. This allowed the possibility for a sentence of probation with mandatory mental health treatment. Houston's plea in July was made with the understanding that he met the legal requirement to stand trial, knew right from wrong and could help with his defense.
"There is only one reason why he pulled the trigger, and that was to kill the individual," said Baricevic, referring to an autopsy report that showed that Jonas was struck twice in the face and twice in the neck by bullets fired from a handgun. Baricevic said Houston is a danger to society.
"He's a dangerous man who needs to be in prison. Not probation. Not treatment. Prison," said Sallerson, who had sought a sentence of life without parole.
"He didn't care about anyone but himself," he said.
Keefe, the defense lawyer, said his client suffered from "mild to moderate" retardation and required the help of family of friends with, "the activities of daily living."
He said Houston's IQ was in the 45-50 range, well below the average and less than 99.6 percent of the population.
Keefe said his client began carrying a gun only after a cousin had been murdered on the streets.
"I don't think life is appropriate, and I don't think 60 years is appropriate," Keefe told Baricevic.
Jonas was shot just before 2 a.m. June 2, 2009, at the Ernest Smith Apartments at 47th Street and Piggot Avenue in Centreville. He was found lying in the street near his police cruiser.
The Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis was tapped to work the case and 30 to 35 officers investigated. Houston was picked up a day after the shooting; by the next day, he was charged.
Houston, who was 22 at the time of the shooting, told police he did not want to get booked on a gun charge when Jonas stopped him. Jonas was on duty patrolling the neighborhood, when he got out of his vehicle to talk to Houston and others with him. He asked Houston to lift up his shirt so he could check for a gun. But Houston shot Jonas and ran.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org and 618-239-2625.