Six years ago, promising Washington Union football player Dante Smith and his friend, Dashawn Roland, were seriously wounded in gang violence in southwest Fresno.
At the time, Police Chief Jerry Dyer described Dante, then 17, and 15-year-old Dashawn, as good students and innocent bystanders to a drive-by shooting.
Tuesday, James Edward Hicks, 24, the gang member who shot them, was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The two victims didn’t attend Hicks’ sentencing hearing in Fresno County Superior Court. Neither did Hicks’ family or friends.
Hicks’ lawyer, Curtis Sok, said his client never had a chance because “the only thing he knew was the streets.”
Police said Hicks — with Eric Carolina at the wheel — fired into a crowd of people outside some apartments at Jensen and Walnut avenues in southwest Fresno around 5 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2008. Roland was shot in the face; a bullet broke his jaw. Smith was shot seven times in the legs, shoulders and chest. A surgeon took out five bullets; another bullet had gone right through. But one bullet in his left thigh was too close to a major artery and could not be removed.
The bullet in Smith’s leg ended his football career.
Court records say Hicks and Carolina were Modoc gang members. Hicks fired into the crowd, believing he was shooting at members of the rival Muhammad family street gang, the records say.
Hicks and Carolina were arrested on Nov. 6, 2008. Police said they both made statements that implicated them.
While Carolina, now 29, pleaded guilty to three felony charges in exchange for a prison sentence of 23 years, Hicks contended he was not the shooter. Finding the truth proveddifficult.
Court records say neither Smith nor Roland could identify the drive-by shooter.
In Hicks’ first trial in March 2011, the jury was split on his guilt. To reach a verdict, the jury must be unanimous.
A year later, a different jury convicted him of five felony charges, including shooting from a motor vehicle, shooting at an inhabited dwelling and street terrorism. He was later sentenced to 110 years in prison, but his conviction was short-lived. In July last year, the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno tossed out Hicks’ sentence, citing judicial error for allowing improper opinion testimony from a police detective.
Hicks was headed to a third trial in December when he decided to plead no contest to assault with a firearm. He also admitted to using a gun and that he did the shooting for the benefit of a criminal street gang, court records say.
Tuesday, Sok said Hicks accepted the plea deal because his “coerced confession by police” was going to be used against him in his third trial.
Prosecutor Williams Lacy said he agreed with the plea agreement because witnesses have been reluctant to testify. In addition, Roland testified in Hicks’ second trial that Hicks was not the shooter, he said.
“This is an appropriate resolution because he will be put away for a long time,” Lacy said.
Hicks has already been behind bars six years. Because of good time credits in jail, he might get out in 13 years, Sok said.
“He’s done well in custody and stayed out of trouble,” Sok said, noting that Hicks has earned his high school diploma and wants to take college courses in prison.
In sentencing Hicks, Judge Wayne Ellison gave him words of advice: “Good luck and take care of yourself.”