In 1994, Keith Sanders was found guilty of shooting two men to death outside an apartment complex in Brooklyn and sentenced to life in prison.
More than 20 years later, Sanders has asked a judge to reconsider his sentence in light of a 2012 United States Supreme Court decision.
The Supreme Court ruled that a mandatory life sentence for anyone under the age of 18 violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. The ruling means defendants who received life in prison when they were juveniles can appeal their sentences.
“I’m not a bad, bad person,” Sanders told Judge Jan Fiss in court Tuesday. “I was just a 17-year-old.”
The judge will make a decision on whether to alter the original sentence after he considers the case. At the sentencing hearing Tuesday, however, both the prosecuting and defense attorneys presented their arguments.
With family members of the two victims present in the courtroom, prosecuting attorney Judy Dalan argued Sanders should still be sentenced to life in prison.
“We know Mr. Sanders was a young man. People make mistakes,” Dalan said. “But this is the kind of crime that calls for the court to give a life sentence.”
Dalan, who prosecuted the original case in 1994, said Sanders shot Jeryl Jones and Darnell Love after a heated conversation. Jones was armed, but put his gun back in his car before going back to talk to Sanders, Dalan said. Though Sanders saw Jones put his weapon in the car, Sanders shot him anyway, Dalan said.
Love ran around an apartment building to try to get away from Sanders, Dalan said, but Sanders chased him and “gunned him down.”
“Multiple, multiple times he shot this man,” Dalan said.
As Dalan recounted the events, one of the victim’s relatives exited the courtroom in tears. Sanders sat quietly in shackles and an orange St. Clair County Jail jumpsuit, listening to Dalan’s account.
Sanders’ defense attorney, Brian Flynn, argued Sanders was a product of his environment, growing up in Brooklyn. He said the victims were “out looking for trouble.”
“They found it, unfortunately,” Flynn said.
Sanders’ younger brother, Michael Sanders, testified Tuesday. He said was only 11 or 12 at the time of the murder, and said he hoped the family could “become one again” if his brother could get out of prison.
“He’s been gone a long time. We want to make sure he has our immediate assistance,” the younger brother said.
Sanders left the judge with a statement of his own, saying he shot the men in self-defense.
“I’m sorry they’re gone,” Sanders said, turning to face the victims’ families. “I was defending myself, and I feel I should get a chance to go home.”
The judge’s decision was set to be heard Sept. 13.
Sanders’ case is one of three similar cases in St. Clair County in which defense attorneys plan to use the Supreme Court’s decision to appeal mandatory life sentences for juveniles.