Noting that a judge had no choice but to sentence a man to life in prison, a defense attorney called Friday's sentencing hearing an “exercise in futility.”
The family of Kristopher Winters knows something about futility.
Winters' mother, Kellie, and sister, Victoria, sat and watched Friday as Douglas County District Judge J. Michael Coffey sentenced a third young man, Marqus Patton, to a mandatory life sentence for the July 2011 deadly robbery of Winters, 25.
Patton, 23, joins fellow Omaha Mafia Blood members Ryan Elseman, 22, and Nicholas Ely, 20, in the Nebraska state prison system.
“At least their families can go to Lincoln and sit and visit them,” Kellie Winters said. “I go sit on my son's grave to visit him. It doesn't get any easier.”
All three were convicted of first-degree murder under the felony murder rule, which holds co-defendants accountable if someone dies in the commission of a felony such as robbery.
The three — along with 17-year-old Emily Gusman and 24-year-old Drake Northrop — had tried to rob Winters, a marijuana dealer, of money and pot that July day.
Winters tried to fight them off — and Elseman shot him in the basement of the home near 51st and U Streets.
Patton's attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley, protested the mandatory life term for Patton, arguing that the judge should have other options in light of Patton's age.
Prosecutor Matt Kuhse noted that Patton was no kid when he committed this crime. He was 21. And he was on parole after having served three years in prison for another robbery of a drug dealer.
Kellie and Victoria Winters said they felt little relief from Patton's sentence — and even less from Gusman's.
Gusman cooperated with authorities and testified in the trials of the three men who received life sentences. In turn, prosecutors transferred her first-degree murder case to juvenile court.
This week, Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich sent Gusman to the Geneva Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center for an unspecified number of months. Once she is done at Geneva, Gusman will be on juvenile parole until she turns 19.
Gusman, who was 15 at the time of the slaying, had flirted her way into Winters' basement on the pretext of buying marijuana.
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