Originally posted at 10:45 a.m. May 31, 2013
Story and photos by Ken Stone
Declaring “there should be light at the end of the tunnel,” a judge Friday sentenced the killer of La Jolla High graduate Garrett Berki to 50 years to life after rejecting a prosecution bid for 63-to-life.
Rashon Abernathy, now 19 but 17 1/2 at the time of the killing involving a Craigslist ad, made no statement before his sentencing by Judge Kerry Wells.
Ali Faudoa, Berki’s girlfriend and a witness to the slaying, said she was satisfied with the verdict and trusted the judge on the term, which would be reduced by two years for time served.
Faudoa, a 20-year-old San Diego student who met Berki when she was at Clairemont High School, told the court she had overcome the guilt she felt in the aftermath of the incident.
Outside court, she told Patch that “there was a moment when Garrett wanted to pause” as he drove after the robbers. “I told him to keep going”—which the defendants have argued was a sign they were about to be run over.
But Faudoa said Garrett could have have “run them off the road” had they wanted to.
Berki’s mother, Connie, and sister Monica tearfully read brief statements before the sentencing—itself delayed by a defense attorney’s effort to have it postponed again to another day.
Connie Berki told the court that “there isn’t a family anymore. Their lives are completely shattered” and that she “probably never will” forgive the three involved in the case.
“I’ll never have a grandchildren from him,” she told a courtroom of 50 spectators including friends and family of the defendants. “He had dreams, and I’ll never be able to see those dreams.”
Monica, spelling her name for the record with anguished slowness, likened her heart to a bullet-riddled flag returned from Iraq and said, “Losing my brother changed me in so many different ways.”
She called Garrett an “incredibly gifted young man” and “there never was a dull moment with him.”
“My heart feels like a shattered mass of broken pieces. … My bullet holes can never be sewn,” she said, calling the loss a pain that she lives with on a “daily, hourly and minute basis.”
Sentencing a little before noon followed an hour of arguments by defense lawyers that a new trial should be granted.
Wells denied that motion after defenders argued that the jury was not properly instructed on the so-called escape rule, suggesting that the strict definition of felony murder had not been met.
Wells said errors were made in jury instructions—but not any that would have changed the outcomes of the jury verdicts after 2 1/2 days in November.
Seandell Jones, Shaquille Jordan and Abernathy were convicted in November 2012 of first-degree murder in the May 11, 2011, crime in Paradise Hills after the 18-year-old victim and his girlfriend were lured by a Craigslist ad for a laptop computer.
Jones and Jordan were each sentenced to 25 years to life. Jones, a front-seat passenger in the getaway car, and Jordan, the driver, were 17-year-old friends of Abernathy at the time of the crimes.
“The motive in this case was pure greed,” Wells said before sentencing Abernathy.
Before announcing the first sentence, Wells noted state mandates and a recent Supreme Court decision regarding cruel and unusual punishment considerations for defendants who committed crimes before they turned 18.
Wells said Abernathy came from a financially stable home with a large and supportive family and that “by all accounts [he was] a smart, mature 17-year-old” and was even depicted by others as “very mature for his age.”
An earlier robbery showed that Abernathy “enjoyed the adrenaline rush” of threatening his victims with a gun,’ she said. “He was actually invigorated by that crime.”
Therefore, Wells told court and the chair-swiveling defendant: “I believe Mr. Abernathy is every bit as culpable as any 18-year-old.” She said the 50-to-life sentence “adequately punishes the defendant and protects the public.”
Wells denied a motion for a new trial for all three defendants, saying her failure to give a certain jury instruction was harmless error.
The defendants were convicted in the May 11, 2011, robbery-slaying of Berki, a 2010 graduate of La Jolla High School. Berki’s girlfriend went with him to check out the computer for sale and was also a victim of robbery.
The jury also found Abernathy guilty of robbery for stealing $600 from a Navy man who responded to a Craigslist ad to buy a similar computer on May 5,
Prosecutor Kristian Trocha said Berki went to Paradise Hills about 10 p.m. with his girlfriend to buy a MacBook Pro computer advertised on Craigslist for $600. The defendants grabbed the money and the victims’ cellphones and got into a stolen car driven by Jordan, he said.
Berki and his girlfriend were headed to report the theft when he spotted the defendants’ car and gave chase on state Route 54, Trocha said. The cars exited the freeway several miles away and ended up front-to-front in a cul-de-sac.
Abernathy fired one shot through the windshield of the victims’ car, striking Berki in the shoulder, the prosecutor said. Berki died about 45 minutes later.
Jordan drove off but crashed the car in a nearby cul-de-sac and the defendants ran off, only to be arrested a short time later, Trocha said.
Abernathy’s attorney, Kathleen Coyne, told the jury that her client admitted the robberies and brandishing a gun but was not guilty of murder.
She said Abernathy didn’t know the gun that killed Berki was loaded, and it discharged accidentally when Jordan suddenly hit the brakes.
—City News Service contributed to this report.
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