Manatee County’s message was echoed by a federal judge Thursday afternoon as she sentenced the final two members of a crime ring that instilled fear in the community, resorting to murder and other violence to further their drug trade: Manatee County does not want any of you back.
But as U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich handed down the sixth and final sentence, repeating as she had to each of the defendants that the community had been heard loudly and clearly, she forcefully added: “And I agree with them.”
Corey “James” Harris was sentenced to 120 years in prison. Earlier on Thursday, Charlie “Mr. 30N32” Green was sentenced to five life sentences, two of which will run concurrently.
But before dismissing Harris and the courtroom, Kovachevich had one final thought, her voice commanding over the courtroom, many who sat in awe of her final ruling.
“You should hang your head in shame, all six of you, that you participated in any of this,” she said before promptly dismissing him.
On Sept. 8, a federal jury of 12 found Green guilty of racketeering conspiracy including the murder of Ceola Lazier, the murder of Brenton Coleman Sr. and kidnapping; conspiracy to drug trafficking; the murder of Joseph Evans; brandishing a firearm during a crime of violence; and the murder of Lazier. Harris was found guilty of conspiracy to drug trafficking and pleaded guilty to three counts of distributing crack during the trial.
Harris, acquitted in the death of Coleman, which was the only murder he was charged with, was the only defendant not convicted of any of the murders involved in the case or of racketeering conspiracy.
But Kovachevich’s ruling made clear that she didn’t find Harris’ role to be minor or believe the defense’s position that he had lived in St. Petersburg to separate himself from his family, including his brothers Nathaniel and Napoleon Harris who each received multiple life sentences.
Instead, Kovachevich said, she believed it was forward thinking in an effort to expand the group’s territory, demonstrated by evidence presented at trial and through the testimony of witnesses who said the group had been trying to expand into Tampa and Brandon. The hold his family had on him was just too strong, she added.
The judge agreed that evidence had proven two cell phones belonging to Harris had been near his home in St. Petersburg at the time of Coleman’s murder in Bradenton.
“I think the testimony supports that you crossed the bridge, the Sunshine Skyway,” Kovachevich said. “And you didn’t come over for an evening of entertainment, but you came with a different purpose.”
Based on the preponderance of evidence at trial, she said she believed he did participate in killing Coleman.
“You should have stayed in St. Petersburg,” she said austerely.
On Wednesday, Napoleon “Pole” “Mr. 760” Harris, 32, received three life sentences, two of which will run concurrently and Jerry “Jerk” Green, 30 was sentenced to four life prison terms, two of which are to be served concurrently.
On Tuesday, Nathaniel “Popo” Harris, 24, was sentenced to four life sentences, two of which he will serve concurrently, plus an additional 100 years. Deonte “Tang” Martin, 26, was sentenced to three life sentences, plus an additional 25 years.
“It’s the worst case I have seen, and it is the only case I have seen an entire community rise and say we don’t want these people to come back ever again,” Kovachevich said Thursday morning.
Celeste Evans, was among the three family members of victims who spoke during Charlie Green’s hearing. Since she walked in, Evans struggled to hold back her tears in anticipation of speaking about the murder of her son, Joseph Evans.
Evans began by thanking the judge, prosecutors, federal agents and all involved for finally getting justice, before detailing her “living hell” of nightmares, an inability to sleep or eat and her need to seek psychiatric treatment.
“I have contemplated suicide,” Evans said. “It’s hurts to that point, that I consider taking my own life, but I have my other children who are also suffering because their mother is not whole.”
When she becomes overwhelmed, Evans said she sometimes locks herself in a room to cry — sometime crying for hours, days, weeks or months.
“I have been crying for six years,” Evans said. “My soul is hurting.”
But after asking the judge that Green be given the punishment he deserves, Evans told Green that she had also come to forgive him.
“You will have to take it up with God, for what you did,” she said as Green became hostile and argumentative responding, “You take it up with God.”
But the grieving mother found the strength to continue.
“At the end of the day I hope you can handle what you did,” Evans said as he again interjected as his defense attorney and U.S. marshals attempted to quiet him down as he shouted expletives at her.
As Tesha Lazier, cousin to Lazier and Coleman spoke next, Kovachevich interrupted her in order to warn Green that if he could not keep himself under control she would call for a recess.
Lastly, Rosemary Lazier, Ceola Lazier’s mother, spoke repeating some of what she had said during Jerry Green’s hearing but changing other remarks to direct them at Charlie Green.
“All of this has been a senseless catastrophe,” Lazier said. But although she knew her son had made mistakes, “Nothing warranted his brutal murder.”