Shazeem Hayes wept and collapsed on the floor in court Friday in Lancaster. Then he cried out about a 2-year-old child : "He called me daddy."
The child was killed by an illegal gun Hayes left on a table.
Hayes was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for child neglect and a weapon violation.
Hayes, 19, left a loaded, 9-millimeter pistol on an end table, prosecutors said. Jacarion Gladden, the toddler son of Hayes' girlfriend, grabbed the gun when Hayes left the room. The child suffered a fatal wound to the chest, prosecutors said.
The incident happened July 31, 2017 in the Dunlap Street home of Toni Gladden, Jacarion's mother. The shooting happened amid a year filled with gun violence, and spurred outrage in Lancaster.
"The child was then handling the gun himself, it went off, and he died," said prosecutor Randy Newman, 6th Circuit Solicitor.
Jacarion also tested positive for cocaine during an autopsy, Newman said.
Hayes and Gladden, faced unlawful neglect charges from the shooting, Newman said. Prosecutors decided not to add another unlawful neglect charge for the drugs because Hayes and Gladden already faced the neglect charge from the shooting, Newman said after court.
An already-convicted felon, and barred from having a gun, Hayes pleaded guilty to felony child neglect and illegal weapon possession. He was sentenced by Judge Brian Gibbons.
Gibbons said in court: "It's nuts," concerning the plague of gun violence in South Carolina.
"What can we do as a society to keep people from shooting each other or allowing stuff like this to happen?" Gibbons asked.
The sentence came after Jacarion's mother and other family members asked for mercy in a crime where Hayes faced up to 15 years in prison.
Newman pushed for the maximum sentence. He said Hayes is a repeat felon who had at least three guns and has been convicted of gun crimes since age 15.
"We simply cannot allow illegal guns in our community," Newman said. "A child is dead. This could have been avoided."
Hayes' lawyer was Ryan Payne. He said Hayes carried the illegal guns because Hayes had been the target of a March 2017 robbery in Lancaster where he was shot four times.
"What happened was not intentional," Payne said. "Mr. Hayes loved this child."
Toni Gladden still faces pending charges of child neglect and misprision of a felony. She is accused by Lancaster Police Department investigators of misleading them during the investigation, court testimony showed.
Lancaster Police Department Sgt. Brian Small said in court that Hayes and Toni Gladden did not tell the truth to police after the shooting. Small said he keeps a picture of Jacarion in his office.
"I stand here for the child," Small said. "A gun was left laying around and a child is dead because of it."
Gladden spoke in court Friday, saying she didn't hate Hayes . She also said she had no idea how her son could have tested positive for drugs.
"He loved my son," Gladden said of Hayes. "He did things for my kids no one else would do."
Rashad Johnson, Jacarion's biological father, also was brought to court. He is serving 23 years in prison for an unrelated Lancaster killing. Johnson said he did not hate Hayes.
Hayes repeatedly cried and said he was a father figure to Jacarion.
"I loved that kid and he loved me too," Hayes said as he wept in court. "It's one thing for somebody to die, it's another thing when they die because of you."
Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald