Maurice Burris, age 16, well over 6 feet tall, handsome, left the alternative school he attended on Jan. 10 to buy some pot with some buddies. He did not get high. But by hanging around with buddies in Rock Hill’s 715 Fam, a purported rap group that authorities have described as a gang, Burris is looking at 11 years in prison.
Burris is the last defendant to plead guilty in a botched drug deal on Jan. 10 that ended with the fatal shooting of Michael Giddens, 25, at a home on Cedar Grove Lane in Rock Hill. Burris was asked by another student at the Renaissance Academy, an alternative school, about buying marijuana that fateful day. Burris hooked up with a 19-year-old guy named Abbdul Emmanuel, who police say plotted the robbery. Emmanuel was accused of shooting Giddens as Giddens sat in a chair with a video game controller in one hand, a cellphone in the other hand, and a shotgun across his lap.
Burris, who turned 16 a week before the killing, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Family Court to armed robbery and conspiracy. The tall young man got the maximum in Family Court – juvenile prison until age 21. On Monday, court testimony showed, he will no longer be a kid under the law. He will plead to obstruction of justice in adult court, and get a youthful offender sentence of up to six more years on top of that. As much as 11 years total.
All because he wanted to get high and hang with gang members.
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Last week, Emmanuel was sentenced to 40 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Another person accused in the crime scheme, Dontavion White, 18, got 10 years for hanging out with the gang and being involved in an armed robbery. To the end, Emmanuel claimed in court that Giddens was going to shoot Burris as the duo rushed into the house to steal the dope, so that’s why he shot Giddens.
Burris’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Stacey Coleman, said in court that simply is not true. Burris never told police that the shooting was to protect Burris because it didn’t happen that way.
What happened was the robbery “spiraled out of control,” both Coleman and Family Court Judge Henry Woods said in court. Burris, Coleman said, “was terrified” after watching Emmanuel shoot Giddens and then try to shoot the fleeing drug dealer who was the real target.
More, Coleman acknowledged what police have said about Emmanuel and others involved in the crime: That it was a gang crime and the code of silence among thieves was part of the aftermath. The gang was created, and grew, after several young men saw one of their buddies kill himself in front of them a few years ago. The crew claimed to just be aspiring rappers, making videos.
“Mr. Burris ended up in 715 Fam and they did do rap videos, but they are also a gang – no question about it,” Coleman said in court.
Instead of following his other friends to advanced placement classes, Burris followed the gang straight to jail.
Coleman, a veteran lawyer, was emotional in court while talking about how she hoped Burris would get out of jail someday and have a chance at a life.
A few days after the incident, when all involved were still uncaught, Burris’s mother talked him into turning himself in and cooperating with police despite gang pressures not to snitch. Burris’s mother was praised Tuesday by Woods as having the courage to stand up for what is right after the robbery ended up with death.
“Every day, I want you to thank God for your mother,” Woods told Burris in court.
All Burriss said, to that and every statement, was, “Yes, sir.”
To the mother in court, Woods said, “You have literally saved your child’s chance at a productive life.”
The mother stood there and cried.
Woods called the snitch code and pressure among criminals to clam up over crimes “crazy” as it just postpones the inevitable: death and prison.
But at the house on Cedar Grove lane, the alleged drug dealer who escaped getting shot or killed that day when Giddens, his roommate and friend, died in January apparently didn’t take the lesson to heart. Rafeal Renta, 20, was selling the drugs that fateful day, prosecutors have said in many court hearings and again Tuesday. Renta fled from the January gunshots and somehow escaped unharmed.
By August, drug agents charged Renta with eight felony drug charges after seizing 175 grams of pot and hash oil.
Renta has not had a trial from his August arrest and remains in jail in York. He could face dozens of years in prison if convicted.
The three guys involved in the attempt to steal the drugs in January from Renta all are now in prison.
The buddy with the shotgun in his lap to look tough during the drug deal is dead.
The drug deals, the gang life, that’s how it always ends. The survivors in prison, the dead buried.