A 19-year-old Oakland youth was sentenced today to 72 years to life in state prison for killing a 50-year-old innocent bystander in a shooting outside a BART station in San Leandro last year and shooting and wounding another teen in a separate incident two days earlier.
In sentencing Jabrie Bennett, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said that in addition to killing Kenneth Lee Seets of Fremont at a bus stop outside the Bay Fair BART station at about 12:20 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2013, Bennett “could have killed more people” because he fired a total of 10 shots.
Prosecutor Mark Melton said, “We could have had a massacre at the BART station – it’s fortuitous that we did not.”
Bennett was convicted last month of second-degree murder for Seets’ death as well as premeditated attempted murder for shooting the other youth, Donnelle Jordan, at 89th Avenue and Hillside Street, near Castlemont High School.
Horner said Bennett fired nine shots at Jordan that missed but when Jordan tried to run away Bennett fired one more shot that struck him in the back.
Melton said Bennett used the same .22-caliber semi-automatic rifle in both incidents.
Melton said Jordan has partially recovered from his injuries but has had to undergo two separate surgeries and could face “a lifetime of additional medical complications that are serious.”
The shooting outside the BART station in San Leandro occurred after one group of youths that included Bennett got into a verbal confrontation with another group of youths that included Andre Smith, another 19-year-old Oakland youth. Bennett and Smith were both 18 at the time.
Melton said in his closing argument in the case last month that Bennett and Smith should both be convicted of murder because they both were armed with guns and acted with reckless disregard for human life.
However, jurors acquitted Smith of the murder charge and only found him guilty of an illegal gun possession charge.
Smith has been in custody since shortly after the San Leandro shooting but he’s expected to be released soon because Horner only sentenced him to five years’ probation.
Melton alleged that Smith provoked the shooting by reaching for his gun and walking toward Bennett after his group got into an argument with Bennett’s groups and Bennett is directly responsible for Seets’ death because one of the 10 shots he fired in response to Smith’s actions struck and killed Seets.
The two groups of young people didn’t know each other before the shooting, according to testimony in the case.
Smith didn’t fire any shots in the incident but his younger brother responded to Bennett’s gunfire by firing five shots at Bennett’s group. Smith’s brother was prosecuted separately in juvenile court.
Bennett admitted during his trial that he fired the shot that killed Seets but said he didn’t intend to kill Seets and his death was “an accident.”
Bennett’s lawyer, William Locke, told jurors in his closing argument that Bennett acted in self-defense after Smith put his hand on his gun and advanced toward him.
Locke said Bennett didn’t play any role in the heated argument that led to the shooting, pointing to evidence that Bennett’s girlfriend and Smith’s brother were the main antagonists in the war of words.
Smith’s lawyer, Barbara Thomas, said in her closing argument that Smith should be acquitted of the murder charge because he didn’t cause or escalate the confrontation.
Seets’ sister, Belinda Seets, said today that Seets “was the one who kept our family together” and “he was my heart.”
Belinda Seets said, “So many people loved him because he was a kind person.”
She said her brother grew up in Georgia, served in the U.S. Army and worked as a delivery truck driver.
Seets was returning home from work when he was killed, she said.
Before Horner sentenced Bennett, Locke said he was “stunned and disturbed” by the jury’s verdicts against him.
“I can’t help but think that a horrible mistake has been made,” Locke said.
Locke said a state prison term of 72 years to life for Bennett “is almost beyond imagination” and “an inconceivable sentence for a 19-year-old.”
But Melton said that Bennett made choices that took his life “in a different direction” that included carrying a gun and committing crimes so he should face the consequences.
Melton said that although Bennett was only 18 at the time of both shootings, “He knew enough not to take a semi-automatic weapon to a BART station and not to shoot somebody in the back.”
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