Sentence handed down in stabbing case

STEUBENVILLE – A Steubenville teen who admitted to stabbing his best friend to death on July 25 was sentenced Friday to 13 years in prison by Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese Jr.

Jalontay Johnson, 17, pleaded guilty to an amended indictment charging voluntary manslaughter and two counts of tampering with evidence in connection with the stabbing death of Demitrius Thomas, 17, in an alley in the rear of the 3000 block of Lawson Avenue.

Johnson, who turned himself in to Steubenville Police hours after the stabbing, admitted to stabbing his best friend and attempting to hide clothing and the knife. He told officers where the items were located.

Johnson was bound over from juvenile court to adult court on a murder charge.

The sentencing was stayed so the case could go back to juvenile court for another hearing.

Murder charges against a teen are automatically bound over from juvenile court if the juvenile judge finds probable cause the teen committed the crime. The charge was amended Friday to voluntary manslaughter, which can give the juvenile court judge discretion on whether to bind the youth over to adult court.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin and Steven Stickles, defense attorney, agreed that Johnson will not object to county Juvenile Judge Sam Kerr having another hearing to bind the case over. Bruzzese will hold another sentencing hearing once that happens.

Bruzzese asked Johnson what he did. Johnson responded by saying, “I stabbed my best friend.”

The victim’s father, Michael, gave a victim impact statement.

“This day has come to a place and time in my life that I would never have imagined or believed – that I would be standing here in a courtroom delivering a statement about someone murdering my son when his life should be just beginning,” the father said.

“I stand here today with such pain, anger, loneliness. I am not pleased with the notion that I will never be able to protect, encourage, hold, touch or see my son on this earth again. I am angry and also saddened of Jalontay’s actions to take my son’s life in such a hateful and demonic way. I am also hopeful, that one day, the unwanted crime in our community will come to an end and other ways and means will be found to solve our differences. I’m hopeful that black-on-black crimes will cease toward one another and we learn to use kindness and understanding instead of weapons.

“You stayed at my house with Demitrius. You played ball with Demitrius. You ate dinner at my table with Demitrius. You cried when you learned of my son’s disability and yet you were the responsible person for my never-ending pain.

“I am on a mission to empower youth with crisis management techniques to use instead of violence to be the first alternative. It is my God-given duty to encourage all youth to build their life around positive and meaningful things. Instead of being at this point where you are today, Jalontay, which leads you to prison and leaves a father and family torn with grief.”

Michael Thomas encouraged Johnson to make changes in his life while in prison, so he doesn’t come out and take another person’s life, adding he never will understand why Johnson did what he did.

Johnson, prior to sentencing, told Michael Thomas, “I just want to apologize and say that I love you and say I’m sorry. I hope you forgive me. I hope Demitrius forgives me. I don’t regret turning myself in to law enforcement. I love you and apologize.”

Michael Thomas organized a picnic in August at Murphy Field to encourage youth and parents to talk about problems in the community.

Stickles said, “Mr. Thomas lost a son and that is not right. The victim’s family agreed with the sentencing and that sentence is justice. But when one child kills another, it isn’t fair. On behalf of Jalontay, I thank the victim’s family and prosecutor.”

In another sentencing Friday before Bruzzese, Louis A. Sadler, 44, of 922 N. Eighth St. was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual battery. A second count of sexual battery was dismissed by county Assistant Prosecutor Edward Littlejohn Jr.

Littlejohn said Sadler had sexual intercourse with a then-16-year-old girl no less than 20 times in 2013.

Bruzzese ordered that Sadler is a Tier III sex offender, requiring him to report his address to the county sheriff for the rest of his life.

Other sentencings by Bruzzese on Friday included:

John E. Gavarkavich, 38, of Martins Ferry, one year in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of illegal processing of drug documents. Gavarkavich faked prescriptions in May at a pharmacy.

Fred A. McShan, 34, of 517 Highland Ave., 60 days in jail suspended, after McShan pleaded guilty to an amended indictment charging misdemeanor obstruction of justice.

Harry Stackhouse, 26, of 104 Wilma Ave., one year in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of trafficking in heroin.

Caroline M. Campbell, 28, of 3214 Orchard St., Weirton, six months in the Eastern Ohio Correction Center after pleading guilty to theft, illegal conveyance of drugs in the county jail and two counts of drug possession. Campbell will be on probation for two years. She faces up to six years in prison if she violates probation.

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