Majority of D.C.’s homicide cases are settled with plea bargain

Of the 312 homicides since 2015, only 35 people have been sentenced– and not all for murder.

From 2015 through March 2017, 46 homicide cases have been closed: nine were dismissed, one resulted in a not-guilty verdict, and one suspect fell into a coma. The remaining 35 cases have been resolved with a plea deal– an agreement between a suspect and a prosecutor that avoids a trial and often suggests a shorter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

On average, suspects who accept plea deals are sentenced to 13 years in jail and most often sentenced for second-degree murder while armed.

D.C. Witness has been tracking the arrests of suspects, and the cases that arise from those homicides since 2015. To date, over half of all homicide cases remain open.

Suspects are often charged with second-degree murder while armed – which is also the most common sentencing charge- though, the people initially charged with second-degree murder are not always sentenced for it.

A majority of D.C.’s homicide cases are settled with a plea bargain. Of the 35 sentenced cases, suspects often plea to a lesser charge. So while second-degree murder while armed may be a reoccurring initial and sentencing charge, the same people initially charged with it aren’t the ones always pleading guilty to it.

For instance, 23-year-old Dion Martin was initially charged with first-degree murder. Martin went to several court appearances, went before the judge and eventually was offered a plea deal by the prosecution. Martin accepted the terms of the agreement, the judge accepted the deal and as per the plea agreement Martin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder while armed resulting in a 16 year sentence — a shortened sentence based on the downgraded charges.

Matin Flythe, 21, was charged with first-degree murder August 2015. A month into his case Flythe accepted a plea bargain outlining a lesser charge and a shortened sentence.

By the end of his case Flythe pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter while armed and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for murdering 22-year-old Michael Toland.

In 29 of the 35 sentenced cases, suspects pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Most suspects pleaded guilty to second-degree murder while armed, voluntary manslaughter or voluntary manslaughter while armed charges.

As noted above the average sentence is 13 years, but there are outliers associated with that average.

Ravinel Oliver, 18, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison at the close of his case. Initially, Oliver was charged with first-degree murder while armed for the murder of Torrey Bowman. But the murder charge didn’t stick, and Oliver pleaded guilty and was sentenced for carrying a pistol without a licence, failure to register a firearm and unlawful possession of ammunition. The charges against another suspect, Keith Leftwich, were dropped. To date, no one has been sentenced for Bowman’s murder.

On the other side of the sentencing spectrum, 21-year-old Markell Alston was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

Alston was initially charged with second-degree murder while armed and plead guilty to the same charge. Alston is one of five cases where the charge wasn’t upgraded or downgraded.

A judge takes into account several factors when sentencing a suspect, including the defendant’s age, crime, criminal history and level of education into consideration. The average age of a suspect who has accepted a plea deal is 27.

Alston’s sentence is the highest sentence range for murder cases over the past two years. However, based on the 2016 Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines Manual, Alston’s sentence is 14 years less than the recommended minimum sentencing for a second-degree murder while armed charge. Had the case gone to trial and Alston was found guilty, he could have been sentenced to jail time between 40 years to life in prison.

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