The first two of six men in a crime ring responsible for a litany of drug-related violence in Manatee and Sarasota counties learned their fate Tuesday: multiple life sentences.
A federal judge in Tampa on Tuesday morning sentenced Nathaniel “Popo” Harris, 24, to four life sentences, two of which he will serve concurrently, plus an additional 100 years.
Later in the day, Deonte “Tang” Martin, 26, was sentenced to three life sentences, plus an additional 25 years.
“I have never presided over a case such as this one,” U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich said during Harris’ hearing. “It is the worst case we have ever seen in this district because of the very thing we are charged with doing: protecting the community.”
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On Sept. 8, a federal court jury of 12 found Harris guilty of racketeering conspiracy, including the kidnapping and murder of Calvin Barnes and murder of Demetrius Cunningham; conspiracy to commit drug trafficking; maintaining a drug house; use of a firearm to maintain a drug house; armed kidnapping; attempted murder; convicted felon in possession of ammunition; possession with intent to distribute cocaine and crack; use of a firearm to further drug crimes; and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
The jury found Martin guilty of racketeering conspiracy, including conspiracy to murder Brenton Coleman Sr.; conspiracy to commit drug trafficking; murder of Coleman; possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine; possession of a firearm to further drug trafficking; and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Kovachevich said she had never seen a community come forward like they had in this case to say: “We don’t want these people in our community any longer.”
“And they don’t ever want you back,” Kovachevich said as she looked at Harris.
In the courtroom gallery, victims or loved ones of victims could be heard agreeing with the judge.
Harris turned to glare at the them, but Kovachevich quickly drew his attention back.
“You murdered people without a thought,” Kovachevich told him.
Harris quickly interjected: “I didn’t murder nobody.”
Kovachevich continued, saying that the community had cried out for justice.
Calvin Harris’ mother, Demetrius Cunningham’s father and the victim of the armed kidnapping and attempted murder were permitted to address the court before Harris was sentenced.
Deatrice Jones, Barnes’ mother, said the past six years had been hard for her, since the youngest of her five children was murdered.
“I just want to know why,” Jones said holding back her sobs. “He was only 16 years old. Why you took my baby?”
After her emotional testimony she quickly walked out of the courtroom to compose herself, before returning moments later.
Pedro Seabrooks, Cunningham’s father, said he had asked God to give him strength to deal with this.
“You can’t imagine what we are feeling,” Seabrooks told Harris.
But after he served his time, Seabrooks said, “You will have God’s justice to deal with.”
Kovachevich echoed that sentiment during her sentencing of Harris, telling him she hoped one day he will come to grips with what he had caused.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Walter Furr told the judge before her ruling, that Harris was responsible for federal authorities getting involved in the case.
“They were totally out of control down in that county, which is why they asked us to help,” Furr said. “And this guy is at the forefront. He’s lucky we didn’t go for the death penalty because he certainly deserves it.”
Even the thugs in Manatee County were scared of them, Furr added.
“This is horrible what’s happened down there,” Furr said. “This is justice today.”
During her sentencing of Martin, Kovachevich repeated what she had told Harris.
“I have never seen anything like this in all my 44 years doing this,” Kovachevich said. “They don’t want you back ever again.”
During his arguments before sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Murray said Martin had left a scar on the community when he killed Coleman in front of more 300 children at the 13 AV Dream Center in Bradenton.
“He’s a contract killer,” Murray said. “He has traumatized the community, and he did it for money.”
Gwendolyn Lazier, Coleman’s mother, was too distraught to speak as she stood at the podium as her niece, Shaquita Lazier, read something she had prepared.
Coleman begged for his life, Lazier said as the grieving mother sobbed.
“I think joining him in death would be better than living without him,” she read.
“Not only did you kill my son that day, but you killed me as well,” the younger Lazier read as both women sobbed.
Harris and Martin each had an opportunity to address the court and both denied all the murders they were found guilty of.
Martin glanced back towards his family in the back of the courtroom, none of which addressed the court, and smiled before walking out.
The remaining four sentencing hearings are scheduled as follows:
▪ Napoleon “Pole” Harris, 10 a.m. Wednesday.
▪ Jerry “Jerk” Green, 1:30 p.m., Wednesday.
▪ Charlie “Mr. 30N32” Green ,10 a.m., Thursday
▪ Corey “James” Harris 1:30 p.m., Thursday