Craigslist murderers get life without parole

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The so-called “Craigslist killers”—two men who used the classified advertisements website to lure and kill a potential customer–were sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Feb. 18.

A jury had recently found Contevious Stepp-McCommons and Malik Rice guilty of setting up a bogus Craigslist ad and killing 56-year-old Clarence Gardenhire.

Stepp-McCommons and Rice used a fake ad for an iPhone for sale to lure Gardenhire and his son, Jamar Perry, in 2013, to an abandoned house in Southeast Atlanta. Gardenhire was shot and later died at a local hospital after the attempted robbery.

“Whenever we get a result like this, we’re always pleased,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James. “A father, a grandfather has been taken away from us before his time in a violent manner. No one is throwing a party here, but in terms of our level of satisfaction, because of justice, we are satisfied.”

Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker sentenced Stepp-McCommons, 20, to life without the possibility of parole with an additional 35 years to serve. Rice, 19, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole with an additional 55 years to serve. The two were convicted of felony murder, possession of a firearm during commission of a felony, criminal attempt to commit a felony and two counts of aggravated assault.

“This was a senseless act,” James said. Gardenhire, a resident of Tallahassee, Fla., was in town for the birth of his ninth grandchild.

“He was going to buy an iPhone,” James said. “They were just going to purchase a phone and he was killed in the process over a piece of property, and that makes no sense.”

Bill Hankins, senior assistant public defender for DeKalb County representing Contevious Stepp-McCommons, called the defendants “young men [who] made a bad decision over the course of a few minutes. It’s a tragedy.”

Hankins told reporters that the case was hard to defend.

“Any time there are shots fired, it’s very difficult on the defense when there is a deceased involved,” Hankins said. “That’s the biggest obstacle every time. And the fact that the codefendant was gone for 13 months didn’t help.”

Jennifer Lopez-Pierrelus, the victim’s stepdaughter, displayed a picture of her immediate family.

“My husband didn’t have a father,” she said. “So my dad came into his life and showed him what it meant to be a good man, a stand-up man, a good dad, a good son.

Lopez-Pierrelus called her father the family’s “support system.”

“My sons have delayed their education because they just got depressed over the [loss of] their granddad,” she said in court as part of the victim’s family’s impact statements.

“My parents came up here for the birth of their grandson Joshua. Joshua was 3 days old when my dad was killed,” Lopez-Pierrelus said. “Joshua will never get to experience how wonderful his grandfather was. He’ll never get to have those conversations with him telling [Joshua], ‘I want you to go to school. I want you to get a college education. I want you to really be somebody.’”

Lopez-Pierrelus said her mother “was robbed of the man who chose to love her and her children, and take care of her, and always be there for her.”

“I watched my mom lose so much weight,” she said. “I watched people come into our driveway and repossess my mother’s Jaguar that my dad was buying her, because it was in his name. I now see my mother’s home in foreclosure because her help mate, her support is gone.”

Lopez-Pierrelus said she is in therapy for depression “because my support, my encourager, the one who always, always told me you could be whatever you wanted to be—he’s gone.”
“I just ask that the court give the same leniency to the two defendents that they gave to my father,” Lopez-Pierrelus said. “I want my children…to know that justice has been served.”

The shooting victim’s wife, Joan Gardenhire, said the sentencing was “what we prayed for.”

“There are consequences for your actions,” she said. “‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay.’ That’s what God said and that’s what we believe we got. They made that decision to kill my husband. They made the decision not to show him any mercy.

“The sentence will not bring my husband back,” Joan Gardenhire said. “My heart hurts. When I think of Clarence, I cry.”

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