District teen sentenced to 25 years in slaying of off-duty officer

Kwamari Harrell was off-duty when he was killed.
Kwamari Harrell was off-duty when he was killed.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 25, 2011; 11:02 PM

A D.C. Superior Court judge sentenced a District teen to 25 years in prison Friday for fatally shooting an off-duty federal police officer during a visit with his brother in 2008.

Attorneys for Lavander Javon Williams, 19, asked Judge Michael L. Rankin to sentence Williams at the lower end of the guidelines, which would have been about 12 years. They said that Williams had no previous arrests and was only 17 and a student at Spingarn High School when he fatally shot Kwamari Harrell, 36.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Kirschner disagreed. The prosecutor held up a poster-size photo of Harrell in his police uniform. "This was not an impulsive act of a child," he said.

At the sentencing, Williams told the judge that he "took full responsibility" for the shooting but asked for mercy. "I'm not a bad person. I'm not violent," said Williams, in shackles and standing between his two attorneys. "I am not this terrible teen the prosecutors tried to make me out to be."

During a two-week trial in October, prosecutors told the jury that Williams and Harrell's brother, Jellani Kush, had a long-standing feud. Kush regularly tried to keep drug dealers out of his neighborhood and alerted police whenever he saw teens smoking marijuana.

On Sept. 27, 2008, during Harrell's visit, Kush wanted to take a picture of the rowdy teens to send to a property owner. But Harrell insisted that he - and not his brother - take the photo. Two female teens then confronted Harrell, with one stabbing him in his ear. Williams then emerged from behind a parked car and shot Harrell once in the chest.

Williams testified during the trial that he feared for his life. Harrell was not in uniform and was not carrying his service weapon.

Prosecutors had charged Williams with premeditated, first-degree murder, but the jury found Williams guilty of second-degree murder.

At Friday's sentencing, Kush, at times through tears, told the judge how he lives across the street from where his youngest brother was killed and has to view the crime scene every day.

"I have to live with this for the rest of my life," Kush said.

He described Williams as a "menace to society" who had numerous encounters with neighbors over drug dealing, truancy and constant "disrespect for adults." Kush said he and his brother wanted to take the photos to "bring the youth under control."

Harrell's mother, Mary, told the judge she wondered whether she was to blame for her son's murder, because she and her husband raised their six children to look after one other and their community.

Before issuing his sentence, Rankin described Williams as "very immature, undereducated and struggling to figure out where he fit into the world he inherited."

Williams must serve 85 percent of his sentence before being eligible for release.

Kush said he was disappointed with the sentence. He wanted Rankin to sentence Williams to 35 to 40 years. "My brother, a police officer, was killed for taking a picture, and he only gets 25 years?"

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