The sentence handed down by an Onslow County judge against Antwaun Sims in 2001 does not need to be altered in any way. The convicted murderer should not be given parole and he certainly doesn’t need to be released back into society. We hope Superior Court Judge Jack Jenkins will see that as he studies evidence presented at the 31-year-old’s Motion for Relief hearing last week and, in turn, rule that he must remain behind bars for life, without any privilege of parole.
Sims was convicted of the January 2000 murder and kidnapping of 89-year-old Newton Grove resident Eleeze Kennedy. He was 17 at the time of the murder. A cohort, Christopher Bell, received the death penalty for the murder and kidnapping, and another friend, Chad Williams, pleaded guilty to similar charges and, like Sims, was sentenced to life without parole.
Attorneys for Sims called for the Motion for Appropriate Relief hearing on the basis of a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision related to his age at the time the crime was committed. That decision states that a mandatory life without parole sentence for anyone under the age of 18 at the time of a crime violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
While it’s true Sims was a teenager at the time the crimes were committed, evidence presented back in 2001 clearly proved to a jury that his involvement in Mrs. Kennedy’s death was of his own choosing and that he knowingly committed the acts in which he was accused.
The evidence was and still remains crystal clear:
• He, in fact, was a willing part of a plan to rob the elderly woman of her Cadillac. Testimony by Williams quotes him as saying about Bell’s plan, “I’m down with whatever.”
• He did, in fact, watch, without trying to stop, as his friends beat Mrs. Kennedy mercilessly.
• He was, in fact, a willing participant as he assisted in loading the now beaten woman into the trunk of her own car.
• He, in fact, drove the car which held the elderly woman captive in its trunk as they took a multi-county joy ride, even stopping along the way to party at a trailer park.
• And, he was, without question, still present and watching as Bell set fire to his jacket and tossed it in the back seat of the Cadillac before all three abandoned it, Mrs. Kennedy still alive and inside.
Never once did Sims give Mrs. Kennedy any relief from the pain and suffering he helped cause; never once did her age enter into his thoughts as he and his friends beat her, imprisoned her and eventually killed her.
Why, we ask, should he now be given appropriate relief merely because of his age? As we see it the only cruel and unusual punishment meted out was to an elderly woman who did nothing to deserve the heinous abuse and slow death provided at the hands of Sims and his friends.
Some would argue the high court’s ruling coupled with defense testimony about the 31-year-old’s life since being incarcerated should have a bearing on the hearing’s outcome.
District attorney Ernie Lee and his team argued differently, saying the Supreme Court decision is not retroactive and therefore is not applicable to Sims’ sentence.
We agree with that for all the reasons Lee explained but, just as importantly, for the simple truths we laid out earlier.
In cut and dry legal terms, we don’t believe Sims’ sentence fits into the neat little package laid out by the Supreme Court ruling. But more than that, we believe his actions from 2000 negate any relief from the verdict a jury saw fit, based on the evidence, to hand up and the sentence a Superior Court judge believed was the right one to hand down, again based on the evidence in the case.
His sentence should stand, showing others, teen or adult, that there is a stiff price to be paid for deadly decisions, and that the price isn’t easily exchanged.