Two local teenagers, Keidren Robinson and Tyrell Young, pleaded guilty to murder and other crimes in connection with the September 2016 shooting death of James Hill in an armed robbery outside a Walgreens drug store in Independence.
Jackson County Assistant Prosecutor Traci Stansell said that while Robinson fell into a category too often seen in the court – from a drug-riddled broken family and seemingly doomed for crime – Young came from a close, churchgoing family with two older brothers to whom he looked up.
“Tyrell Young, by all appearances, had every opportunity to succeed,” Stansell said Thursday before Young, now 18 and the shooter in the crime, was sentenced. “Those opportunities that he squandered make this so much worse. James Hill is dead because of a conscious decision made by Tyrell Young.”
Circuit Judge Marco Roldan sentenced Young to 25 years in state prison for second-degree murder and 10 years each for both robbery counts and three counts of armed criminal action, with all sentences to run concurrent and with credit for time served. Young, who was 16 at the time of the murder and like Robinson had been certified to stand trial as an adult, had pleaded guilty Aug. 3.
Robinson pleaded guilty to the same charges in January and was sentenced on May to 22 years in state prison. He and Young each faced 10 to 30 years or life in prison.
Stansell, echoing the requests of Hill's mother and sister in their victim-impact statements, asked for a maximum sentence. Young's attorney, John O'Connor, had asked the court for a 16-year sentence, saying that Young could still be a productive member of society, given the family to whom he would return.
Judge Roldan said the average length of prison sentences for second-degree murder in Missouri is 21 years. He said he took Young's age into consideration and that the various circumstances were the “saddest thing” to consider.
According to court documents, Hill and the two robbery victims were waiting for a bus outside the Walgreens at 23rd Street and Sterling Road shortly before midnight Sept. 22, 2016, when Young and Robinson robbed them at knifepoint and gunpoint, taking a cell phone and a purse. Hill chased after them for robbing his friends, and Young turned and shot once before the two fled.
Hill died at a local hospital from his single gunshot wound. Both teens were found at Robinson's nearby apartment. Young surrendered initially, and Robinson was arrested after police breached the door. Police later found the gun hidden in the apartment where Robinson said it would be.
Before Roldan announced the sentence, Young's mother Katrina called Tyrell “the most loving, caring son I have raised” and talked of his athletic feats, serving as a church usher and shoveling snow and mowing lawns for neighbors.
When she is old, she said, “He will be the one that takes care of me.”
Katrina said Tyrell's behavior changed after his older brothers went off to college.
“His caring and manner went sideways,” she said. “He went from following his brothers to going with a crazy crowd. We moved, and trouble would keep following him.
“I never could imagine I would sit here and tell you this. I know God is not done with him.”
Hill's mother Janet Byrd told the court this was her saddest day, as “This is the very last thing I do for my son.” She said Robinson and Young will, for the rest of their lives, know they took another human being's life, and the two of them being quickly caught and off the streets is the only good thing arising from her son's death.
“I do not stand here saying James was a saint – nobody is,” Byrd said. “But he was not a violent person.”
Hill had been a caregiver for one of his sisters who has multiple sclerosis, and Hill's murder exacerbated her condition.
“Every holiday is forever ruined,” she said.
Another sister, Lori Deister, said homeless people whom Hill helped and befriended have maintained a little memorial at the Walgreens sign on the corner.
“He considered the homeless his family, because he had been homeless himself,” Deister said, adding that her brother had been to jail before for a non-violent offense and was living his “second chance.”
Deister said her mother's health has also wavered since the murder, and she suffers occasional panic attacks. Their father Clyde initially didn't accept his son was dead when she first called him, she said.
After going to the morgue and placing a crucifix in his hands prior to cremation, Deister took a picture of Hill so his father could see it.
“Never, ever have I seen our father cry until that very day,” she said. “Our suffering and grief seems to have no end.”