RACINE — The father of a Racine musician killed last year during a botched robbery attempt said the combined 59 years in prison handed down to his son’s killers on Friday wasn’t nearly enough time for the life they stole.
Jeremiah “Jay” Brook, of Racine, was shot once through the heart during an attempted armed robbery cloaked in the guise of a drug deal more than 15 months ago. But in sentencing the two Racine cousins for Brook’s July 23, 2012, slaying, Racine County Circuit Judge Charles Constantine said it was difficult to determine whether there was any intent to shoot Brook that day.
“It was a drug deal that went bad — a risky proposition,” Constantine said. “As a parent, nothing is worse than burying a child.” And as for punishment, “obviously death and dismemberment is not enough.”
But he acknowledged that “nothing the court can do can alleviate their pain and anguish, and nothing that I can do can bring him back to life.”
He sentenced Kiori J. Billups, 22, Friday to 22 years in prison plus 13 years on extended supervision. Billups, who said during Friday’s sentencing that he would buy marijuana from Brook, pleaded no contest on Sept. 5 to being a party to the crime of felony murder.
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Prosecutors contend that Billups set up Brook, luring him to a parking lot under the guise of buying marijuana from Brook, but that his cousin planned to rob Brook instead.
But Brook’s father, Robert, disputes that his son was dealing marijuana. He staunchly maintains that his son simply was trying to do a favor for his cousin, who was in prison.
Billups’ cousin, Latriell D. Thurman, 21, previously of Kansas City, was sentenced on Friday to 37 years in prison plus 13 years on extended supervision. He pleaded guilty to first-degree reckless homicide, also on Sept. 5.
“All the raindrops that are in the sky can’t compare with the tears that are in my heart,” Jeremiah Brook’s mother, Cynthia Joas, said during one sentencing hearing before dissolving in sobs.
According to the criminal complaints and witness testimony, Billups was sitting in the SUV with Brook when Thurman approached with a gun. Brook and Thurman struggled and the gun discharged: a fatal shot to the heart.
The musician and singer, 22, died after managing to drive away from the parking lot, hitting parked cars along his path. Police responded to what initially seemed to be a car crash. But inside Brook’s smashed SUV, officers found him suffering from the gunshot wound.
“They should have gotten up and gone job-hunting to pay for the stuff they wanted,” Robert Brook said during Billups’ sentencing.
District Attorney Rich Chiapete said Brook was shot by Thurman within weeks of Thurman moving back from Kansas City.
“I think there’s no question who the ringleader is here,” Chiapete said. “Mr. Thurman had the gun. Mr. Thurman brutally shot Mr. Brook. Mr. Thurman is an absolute danger.”
The two cousins pointed the finger at each other during Friday’s back-to-back sentencing hearings.
“I’m sorry for your son’s loss. He was a good friend. I never wanted any of this to happen to him,” Billups said. “My cousin set up the deal and he told me if I didn’t go along with it, he was gonna kill me.”
Defense attorney Michael Barth said Billups has psychological issues and is mildly mentally retarded, with an IQ of 67.
“I do deserve to be punished for what I did. But not for the murder of your son,” Billups told Brook’s family, packed into several rows in the courtroom. “I’m not a bad kid, I just want you to know that. I make stupid decisions. I feel like I should get prison because I’ll learn from it.”
When Thurman threatened to kill Billups at gunpoint before Brook arrived at the parking lot, Billups said he went along with his cousin.
“He (Brook) had to lose his life because I’m stupid,” Billups said. “I just wish — I know it’s not gonna be soon — but (that) soon you can find it in your heart to forgive me for my stupid decisions.”
Thurman’s defense attorney, Lori A. Kuehn, said Thurman didn’t need to be in prison for more than 20 years in Brook’s death. She said during Thurman’s sentencing that Billups believed Brook had been “shorting him” on marijuana. She said Billups was afraid of Brook.
“So I’m not quite as convinced that Mr. Thurman is the mastermind,” she said. Billups “testified he was scared for his life (of Thurman). He basically played the victim and I don’t buy it.”
Although Thurman apologized in court to Brook’s family “for everything that happened,” he distanced himself from the gun — a crucial weapon in a shooting.
“We was just supposed to get some weed. I didn’t know nothing about any robbery or gun. I was just told to stand in a certain place,” Thurman said.
After the cousins’ hearings, both Barth and Kuehn vowed to appeal their sentences.