JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two teens convicted of killing a 22-month-old Jacksonville boy in a gang rivalry shooting were sentenced Thursday to life in prison.
Kquame Richardson and Henry Hayes IV, both 19, were found guilty of first-degree murder and other charges in the January 2016 shooting death of Aiden McClendon.
Prosecutors said Aiden was sitting in a car in his car seat in front of a Jacksonville home when Hayes and Richardson opened fire, aiming for Aiden's cousin, a rival gang member. Aiden was wounded by several bullets, and the fatal shot hit him in the back.
Hayes and Richardson, who showed little emotion when they learned their fate Thursday, will each be eligible for a review of their sentence after 25 years. Life without parole was not an option because they were teenagers when they committed the crime.
Prosecutors said the two were convicted as "criminal gang members," which they said is very rare.
Aiden's family told News4Jax that although they are still devastated by their loss, they are pleased with the sentencing outcome and hope it will serve as a warning to others involved with gangs.
“It’s stupid, you know, ‘You shouldn’t snitch.’ If you know something -- families are hurting -- and if you know something that can help these families, I think you should come forward," Aiden's grandmother Rhonda McDowell said.
The toddler's great grandmother, Mary Thomas, who was in the car with the boy and his mother when the fatal gunfire erupted, said she reflects on the boy's short life every day.
“Aiden will never be forgotten. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him, but I think of him with joy and fondness for the 22 months that God allowed him on this earth," Thomas said.
Emotions ran high earlier this month during a sentencing hearing as the prosecution and defense called loved ones to the stand.
The state called Tomeshia Brown, Aiden's mother, via Skype.
"In my heart, I feel like a piece of me died with Aiden. My baby was only 22 months and he didn’t deserve to have his life taken away from him. Now, all I have are the great things he could have done with his life," Brown said, crying. "There's no justification for what happened to my son."
The defense also argued against the prosecution’s mention of Richardson’s previous run-ins with law enforcement. In 2012, Richardson was accused of sexual battery of a girl under 10 years old, which, his mother testified, didn’t make him a bad person.
When the prosecution asked Tracy Richardson, his mother, if her son "indicated he had sex with a 10 year old," she responded, "Something like that. I don’t know."
The judge said the incident, which he said was deemed sexual battery, was not relevant to the case.
Other family members of the defendants spoke, arguing the teens' innocence. Hayes' father testified his son had a "normal childhood."
The defense called a psychologist, who said Hayes would be fit for rehabilitation.
“This is a prognosis for change. His personality wasn’t fully formed at that age," the psychologist said.
Even Richardson testified, apologizing for the family’s loss. He asked to take a lie detector test, but that request was denied by the judge.