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U-Md. student’s killer sentenced to 49 years after family’s tearful testimony

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The hearing was supposed to be about closure, a chance for the family and friends of a slain U-Md. student to air their grief and see their loved one’s killer exiled to prison.

But even before Deandre Williams was sentenced to spend the next 49 years of his life behind bars for shooting Justin DeSha-Overcash, friends and family members made clear the proceedings in a Prince George’s County courtroom would bring them no relief. Karen DeSha, DeSha-Overcash’s mother, sobbed as she told a judge she was so deeply depressed that she did not know if she would live to see next year. Randy Overcash, DeSha-Overcash’s father, said he no longer worries if his cell phone is with him, because his son was the only person he needed to be available for at all times.

“There will be nothing happening today that will help us,” Overcash said in court Wednesday. “Our son is gone.”

The sorrowful sentencing hearing was befitting of a crime that shocked Prince George’s County when it occurred in January 2011 — in part because it involved a full-time University of Maryland student, and in part because it came in a month when the county saw 15 other homicides.

Williams, 24, and another man, Stephan Weaver, 23, set out to rob DeSha-Overcash because they heard he had drugs and money, police said. While Weaver waited in the car, they said, Williams went into DeSha-Overcash’s off-campus house in College Park and confronted the 22-year-old physics and astronomy major. When DeSha-Overcash resisted, police said, Williams shot him.

Weaver pleaded guilty to attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon and related counts and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Williams was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in February.

Friends and family of DeSha-Overcash and Williams packed the courtroom Wednesday. U-Md. students sobbed and shared tissue boxes with DeSha-Overcash’s relatives.

DeSha-Overcash’s friends and family members shared memories. Sean Donahue, a friend, testified that he had hoped to be in DeSha-Overcash’s wedding. DeSha traced memories of her son’s school years and said that with her only child dead, she did not know how to live.

“For the first time in my 56 years, I honestly do not care if I live or die,” DeSha said. “The emptiness and sadness is debilitating.”

Williams faced a 30- to 60-year sentence, with a life term suspended. Veteran prosecutor Wesley Adams asked Circuit Court Judge Cathy Serrette to impose 60 years, noting he had never seen a family “so impacted.” William C. Brennan, Williams’s defense attorney, asked for a shorter term, arguing his client intended to rob — not kill — DeSha-Overcash and that the idea to target the student was Weaver’s and another man’s.

Serrette sentenced Williams to 49 years in prison. DeSha, who spoke in court of forgiving Williams, said afterward that the amount of time hardly mattered.

“No matter what they do to him,” she said, “it’s not going to bring Justin back.”

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