Calling it a “planned” act of vengeance carried out against a group of innocent teenagers, a Knox County judge on Friday ordered hefty prison terms for three young men convicted in the December 2015 slaying of a 15-year-old Knoxville boy.
“The victims they chose were perfectly innocent kids … sitting there minding their own business,” Criminal Court Judge Steve Sword said at a hearing Friday as he prepared to mete out punishment in the shooting death of Fulton High School football player Zaevion Dobson.
A jury late last year convicted Christopher Drone Bassett, 22, of first-degree murder in Dobson’s slaying and a slew of related crimes, including the attempted murder of Dobson’s brother and his friends. The jury refused a first-degree murder conviction for his co-defendants, Richard Gregory Williams III, 23, and Kipling Colbert Jr., 22, and instead found the pair guilty of lesser charges of facilitation.
But Sword said that while he respects the jury’s verdict, he believes all three were “equally culpable” and sought to reflect that belief in the punishments he handed out at Friday’s hearing.
“I see very little difference between Mr. Bassett, Mr. Colbert and Mr. Williams,” Sword said.
Bassett received an automatic life sentence on the first-degree murder conviction, which carries a mandatory 51 years behind bars before a parole hearing could be held. Sword stacked another 35 years onto that life term Friday for the attempted murder of Dobson’s brother, Zack Dobson, and using a gun to commit a dangerous felony.
Sword slapped Colbert with a total sentence of 109 years, which includes a two-year penalty on an unrelated drug charge. He sentenced Williams to 107 years in the Dobson case and added that onto a 36-year prison term Williams is already serving for trying to kill a witness in the Dobson case — his friend, Larry North — for a total penalty of 143 years.
Dobson, his brother and a group of teenage friends were hanging out on the porch of a home in Lonsdale after a basketball game when a group of young men walked onto Badgett Drive and opened fire.
Dobson was the only person struck in the sudden attack. He died, testimony showed, while shielding two teenage girls from the volley of gunfire. His death drew nationwide attention, with then-President Barack Obama citing it in a speech on gun violence.