In light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says courts cannot automatically give sentences of life without parole to minors, a Sampson County convicted murderer, who was 17 years of age at the time of his crime,as well as an Onslow County murderer, could possibly be re-sentenced, District Attorney Ernie Lee said this week.
Antwaun Sims, now 29, was convicted of first degree murder on Aug. 24, 2001 in connection with the brutal January 2000 death of 89-year-old Newton Grove resident Elleze Kennedy. Kennedy was found in the trunk of her 1998 Cadillac on Jan. 4, 2000. She had been beaten in the head and face and put in the trunk of her car where she died of carbon monoxide poisoning after the car was set on fire.
Through investigation, hairs and fingerprints inside Kennedy’s car led directly to Bryan Christopher Bell, Chad Lamont Williams and Sims.
Bell and Sims were tried jointly in a trial moved to Onslow County, while Williams pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified against the other two. Bell was sentenced to death; Williams and Sims were sentenced to life.
“At the time of the offense, Sims was 17 years of age and he was 19 years of age when he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole,” Lee explained.
With the recent ruling, Sims, who is currently at the Tabor Correctional Institution in Tabor City, can be sentenced to life without parole again, but under the current legislation that decision must be made by a judge. The judge also has the authority to sentence the defendant to life with parole, with parole eligibility in 25 years, if he chooses to do so.
Lee said he was recently informed by the Office of the Attorney General and the North Carolina Department of Correction that there were approximately 88 individuals serving sentences of life without parole for first degree murder in North Carolina who were under the age of 18 years at the time of their offenses.
“Of those, I am aware of only two defendants in the Fourth Prosecutorial District (Duplin, Jones, Onslow and Sampson Counties) that are serving life without parole sentences who were under the age of 18 years at the time the offenses occurred,” he explained. “Those two individuals are Antwaun Sims and Donte Santiago.”
Santiago, now 27, was convicted of shooting Jacksonville teen Frederick Howell on July 30, 2002. Days after the shooting, Santiago surrendered to police and was charged with Howell’s killing.
”Donte Santiago was convicted of first degree murder in Onslow County on April 17, 2003 for an offense that occurred in Onslow County,” said Lee. “At the time of the offense, he was 16 years of age. He was 18 years of age when he was convicted and sentenced for first degree murder to life without parole.”
Santiago is currently at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.
In both cases, Lee said his office will be responsible for handling the re-sentencing.
“I will be reviewing both of these cases and preparing for their sentencing hearings,” he said. “The defendants will be provided legal counsel and the defendants must be provided time to prepare for the re-sentencing. This office will calendar these matters after the legislation is finalized concerning the procedures to be used in the re-sentencing hearings.”
Exact dates for the re-sentencings have not been made because direction from the state as to how to handle the re-sentencing of those who have been convicted has not been established.
When it is, the district attorney said he will still be seeking sentences of life without parole for Sims and Santiago.
“Yes, based upon the severity and brutality of both of these crimes and the circumstances of these murders, this office will be seeking those sentences,” he said. “I am very concerned for the families of the victims in these cases who thought they have closure but will now be faced, to some extent, with having to relive these cases.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.