CROWN POINT | A 16-year-old Merrillville boy with a history of gun use was given an 11-year sentence Tuesday in this year's fatal shooting of a 14-year-old through the window of his home.
At the end of the hourslong sentencing for Matthew Knight, one of four suspects initially charged in the shooting, Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak handed Knight six years for reckless homicide and an additional five years for using a firearm.
Stefaniak ruled multiple aggravating factors outweighed any mitigating factors as far as Knight was concerned in the shooting of Depree Mims, who was shot through a window of his Merrillville home while getting a blanket for the other children in the home.
Mims' mother had gathered her nine children in the living room with blankets and a mattress to watch a movie in March when Depree was asked to get up and get another blanket.
Shots rang out, striking Depree. He died two days later.
Knight and three co-defendants were charged with murder and criminal gang activity within days of the shooting.
Ray Smith, a detective with the Merrillville Police Department, testified Knight told various versions of events as well as about the location of the gun used in the shooting.
Knight entered into a plea agreement with the state in October, pleading guilty to reckless homicide and admitting to the enhancement of using a firearm. He admitted to owning the gun used in the shooting, though he did not admit to being the shooter.
Deputy prosecuting attorney Monica Rogina argued evidence pointed to Knight as the shooter, but defense attorney Patrick Young told the court he believed the shooter was another passenger in the car from which the shots were fired.
Emotions ran high as Depree Mims was described as a kind, artistic, regular 14-year-old kid just watching television with his family when he was shot.
"My heart is broken for all of you," Knight's tearful mother told Mims' family seated in the gallery.
Knight's mother said she could not explain her son's behavior but for his coming under bad influences.
Citing Knight's history in juvenile court, which involves both drug and firearm possession, Rogina asked the court to keep Knight behind bars as long as possible.
"He's a gun-toting punk who killed a 14-year-old in front of his whole family," Rogina said.
"It's certainly a tragic, tragic event," Young, the defense attorney, told the court. Young said it's unclear who was actually the shooter.
"They all lied," Young said of the four suspects. Knight lied out of fear of the actual shooter, he said.
"I believe he controlled them," Young said, adding Knight was culpable in the shooting but not the most culpable.
Stefaniak took into account the boy's history in failed juvenile proceedings as well as his age and supportive family in reaching a decision.
For whatever reason, Knight chose a road contrary to the values with which he had been raised, he said.
He lied to police and committed additional offenses within days both before and after the shooting, Stefaniak said.
Also of significance was the innocence of the victim who did nothing to provoke the shooting, he said.
"You have your whole life before you, something Depree Mims does not," Stefaniak told Knight, urging the 16-year-old to turn his life around.