AKRON, Ohio (WJW) — Summit County Common Pleas Court Judge Tammy O’Brien on Thursday sentenced two brothers for their role in the death of 17-year-old Ethan Liming outside of the LeBron James I Promise School in June of last year.
Deshawn Stafford, 22, was earlier found guilty of aggravated assault, a fourth-degree felony for which the maximum sentence is 18 months. Both he and his brother Tyler Stafford, 20, were also found guilty of misdemeanor assault.
The brothers were playing basketball on courts outside of the school on June 2, 2022, when Ethan Liming and friends drove into an adjacent parking lot. Two of the friends got out of Liming’s car and started firing gel pellet guns at the Staffords, who exited the court and confronted the others.
Liming got out of his car and in a fight that followed, he was knocked to the ground where his head hit the pavement.
Liming’s family on Thursday showed the court photos of their son as he lay fatally injured on the pavement, saying the beating continued after he was already on the ground.
“My son was brutally assaulted and was killed by the actions of three men because he made a bad choice to play around with a child’s water toy,” Bill Liming told the court during Thursday’s sentencing.
“There is no closure for us there’s no sense of justice … no sentence long enough that will bring back the light that you extinguished,” said Liming’s aunt, Kristy Lang, directly addressing the Staffords. “We have a hole in our hearts that will never be filled.”
Even before the sentences were passed, Deshawn Stafford’s attorney said there would be an appeal. Jon Sinn told the court that in many other fourth-degree felony cases, defendants have received only community control.
He also told the court that because of the expected appeal, he had instructed his client not to address the court at sentencing, even to be remorseful for Liming’s death.
“We got our day in court. I appreciate that. The jury heard what they heard. They decided what that they decided. Now, we are here to take responsibility,” said Sinn.
Judge O’Brien sentenced Deshawn Stafford to the maximum of 18 months in prison and his brother to six months in jail, telling the brothers they could have avoided everything if the decisions they made in just 75 seconds would have been different.
“This case is among the most serious forms of the offense of aggravated assault, the victim suffered serious physical harm and the sentence will be proportional to the harm caused,” said O’Brien.
During their earlier trial, the Staffords’ jury could not reach a verdict on the most serious of the charges they faced, a first-degree felony charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Because of the hung jury, prosecutors could have re-tried the brothers on that charge, but announced in court on Thursday they would not proceed with that.
Both the verdict and the sentence leave Liming’s family feeling betrayed.
“I just want to say that any verdict that the victims family are left terrified is just a symptom of the fact that there is something deeply sick and wrong with our justice system,” Bill Liming said afterward.
“There’s no winners in a situation like this. This young man — I hear he had a lot of promise and every time throughout the court process when I would see his family, see the pictures of him murdered, my heart would ache and go out to them,” said Rev. Jalane Finney, speaking for the Stafford family.