CALLAHAN, Fla. – Gaven Smith, who pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the February 2020 shooting death of a 16-year-old West Nassau High School student, was sentenced Friday to 15 years behind bars.
Trent Fort was shot Feb. 24, 2020, while in a car with four other students in the Spring Lake Estates neighborhood off Lem Turner Road.
Smith, now 18, also was charged with violation of probation and possession of a firearm by a delinquent minor. Smith pleaded guilty to both the murder charge and the firearm possession charge in September.
He was hoping the court would sentence him as a youthful offender, which would have carried a maximum of six years with a combination of serving time in prison and probation. That did not happen.
The judge could have sentenced Smith to a maximum of 30 years on the murder charge. Instead, he gave him 15 years in prison and 10 years of probation. He was also sentenced to the maximum of 15 years on the weapons charge, to run concurrently with the murder sentence.
Prosecutors said they were not pursuing a minimum mandatory for either charge because Smith had been cooperating since his arrest.
Fort’s parents told News4Jax after the hearing they were disappointed with the sentence. They wanted Smith to get the maximum sentence.
“He is not remorseful for killing my son and 15 years is not long enough,” said the victim’s mother, Paige Hall.
“It is a stab in the back when you hear 15 years for a life that was taken,” said Trent’s father, Thareus Fort.
Fort will be given credit for 613 days of time served and must undergo a mental evaluation. He has 30 days to appeal the sentence.
During the sentencing hearing, Smith did apologize for taking for the murder.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what happened and I’m sorry. Those who love him are grieving over his loss,” Smith said. “I started doing drugs when I was 9 years old and I first got drugs from my mom. All the times I got into trouble, (it) was because of drugs. I was high pretty much all the time. Please accept my apology.”
Smith’s grandmother tearfully testified about his family history and apologized to Fort’s family, saying “it breaks my heart” what happened to Fort.
The defense also called experts to testify to Smith’s psychological state and how his childhood traumas had affected him.
Smith’s apology and the others explaining his actions didn’t sway Trent’s family.
“It’s hard to take that apology seriously when the first thing he did when he walked out of that courtroom was make eye contact with me and smile at me,” Hall said.
Attorneys for Trent’s family said they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
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Investigators said in 2020 that Smith is believed to have pulled the trigger after an argument during a drug deal. He was arrested shortly after Fort’s murder at a McDonald’s in Callahan. Deputies later found the 9mm handgun involved in the shooting in the woods, Undersheriff Roy Henderson said.
Henderson said that Fort and the shooter went to school together. Fort’s parents said they’ve never met the teens, but they learned who they were on the day of the shooting.
Ashton Riggs is charged with accessory to murder in the case. Both Riggs and Smith were teens when they were arrested but were charged as adults.
During Friday night’s football game at West Nassau, there will be a special tribute to Trent Fort. It’s senior night at the game.