Emotional family and friends wore purple T-shirts bearing the face of 13-year-old Clayton Veninga on Thursday, as they witnessed the sentencing of Clayton’s killer, LaRoyce McFadden.
McFadden received a 50-year prison term Thursday for shooting and killing Clayton in a random dispute with another child. McFadden was 17 when he shot Clayton on a Granite City street in 2013; he had been in a fistfight with a 14-year-old earlier, and came back with a gun. He fired at a porch where several people were sitting, and hit Clayton.
Clayton made as far as his driveway, and his mother found him bleeding on the ground. He died an hour later at the hospital.
“I would like to apologize to the family,” McFadden said during the sentencing hearing, and did not elaborate. McFadden had confessed to a number of different scenarios in a series of recorded statements presented at trial.
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Clayton’s family members cried as McFadden’s sentence was read. They wore T-shirts that bore Clayton’s picture with angel wings and read: “Clayton Veninga: Fly High. You’ll always be in our hearts.”
Two family members spoke before the sentence was handed down.
You killed all his firsts ... You killed all the hopes and dreams I had for my son.
Sean Canter, victim’s father
“You killed all his firsts,” said Clayton’s father, Sean Canter. “You killed all the hopes and dreams I had for my son ... You killed a piece of me. I cry every day now. Justice, for me, is you spending every day in prison.”
Asia Canter, Clayton’s sister, said her family had been “destroyed” by Clayton’s murder. “My sister and I will never get to play with our brother again,” she said.
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli said he took into consideration McFadden’s young age and treatment at Chestnut Health Center for anger management and ADHD.
“I know you have not had an easy life, but again, this was a senseless act and an innocent victim,” Tognarelli said. “I don’t like sending people to prison and I don’t like presiding over the murder of a young child ... I don’t know what it takes today to deter people from using guns to kill other people. But all I can think of is a 13-year-old kid sitting on a porch when you pulled a gun and fired.”
Before passing sentence, Tognarelli read aloud from another letter he had received, this one from Clayton’s grandmother. “Because of one stupid, senseless act you have hurt so many people,” he read. “He was still a baby, there was no telling how he would have turned out ... I am sad that I have lost my beautiful grandson and will never get to see him again.”
I don’t know what it takes today to deter people from using guns to kill other people. But all I can think of is a 13-year-old kid sitting on a porch when you pulled a gun and fired.
Madison County Circuit Judge Richard Tognarelli
McFadden is now 21, and in December was convicted of Clayton’s murder. After a two-day trial, the jury was out for only 30 minutes before finding him guilty of first-degree murder. He will have to serve 100 percent of his 50-year sentence, so he will be 71 when he is released from prison.
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said it was effectively a life sentence for a “senseless act of violence.”
“My prayers and thoughts go out to this family that has shown incredible resolve and amazing faith through this terrible process, and we wish them peace and healing,” he said.
Asia Canter said it was difficult to get up and speak. While she and her sister, Holly Veninga, said they were happy with the sentence, Asia said it didn’t alleviate their loss.
“It don’t help,” she said. “It helps knowing that he isn’t going to kill anyone else, but it doesn’t help us emotionally.”
Clayton was described by his family as a big football fan who dreamed of becoming a Green Bay Packer. It is not believed Clayton and McFadden knew each other.
“He was really silly; he loved to joke around,” Asia said.
Clayton’s mother, Angela Veninga, declined to speak, but asked family friend Mark Donovan to speak for her. He said Angela is satisfied with the sentence and that the case is closed now.
“She’s going to move on with her life now as best she can,” he said.