After a parade of people tried to justify a former Chester football star’s violent crime spree of armed robberies and shooting a horse in court Monday, the last word belonged to the judge.
And the visiting judge, Roger Henderson of Chesterfield County, used more than one word.
His words in court are the only that that count.
“Fifteen years,” Henderson said, the maximum under a plea bargain struck by defendant Jon-Michael Sanders with prosecutors. Sanders had faced up to 70 years.
But Henderson was not through.
“You preyed on weak people, elderly people,” Henderson said angrily as he gestured toward Sanders and pounded his fist on the bench. “Big, tough football star.”
Henderson let loose a torrent on Sanders, the 17-year-old former Chester High School football and baseball star and gang member who pleaded guilty to a tsunami of crimes in the summer of 2015.
The crimes included home invasions of elderly victims as old as 89, shooting a horse in a field for the thrill of it and other violent acts. Police caught him in the act while committing yet another armed robbery.
Henderson sentenced Sanders to the maximum under a negotiated plea deal of 15 years. Henderson told Sanders it was “the deal of the century” for such a spate of “terrorizing” crimes.
The guilty plea ended a case against Sanders that had Chester County in an uproar in the summer of 2015, and the elderly fearing for their lives in the city and rural areas.
Chester Police Chief Tammy Levister described “a haunted community” of fear until Sanders the ringleader, and others, were caught.
Sanders agreed to plead guilty to two burglaries, robbery, assault and battery, grand larceny a and shooting a mare named Grey out in a pasture with a stolen gun.
Sanders shot the horse for one reason - because he could.
“ I killed the mother @#$%^& horse!” Sanders screamed to his buddies in crime.
The crimes went on for a month in 2015 until Sanders and a co-defendant were “caught red-handed” in the middle of yet another robbery, prosecutors said.
Sanders’ lawyers and family members blamed his summer of violence on the divorce of his parents and other stresses.
Sanders himself apologized, begging for mercy as so others in his family did.
But prosecutors and police, and the victims and the judge, were having none of that.
Sanders not only stole from the elderly victims, he held a gun to the head of one woman and pulled the trigger. Only a misfire stopped her brains from being splattered all over her bed, where Sanders had surprised her. The woman somehow was able to crawl and then run away.
“Mr. Sanders tortured her,” said Shuler Robertson about her sister-in-law, the victim.
Jerry Robertson, the elderly woman’s brother, called for “swift and severe justice” after Sanders terrorized his sister and destroyed the safety and security for the people of Chester.
Karen Fryar, Sixth Circuit solicitor, said Sanders was a gang member who had been suspended from school 20 times and kicked off sports teams.
After being kicked off the team, he took it out on his coach by stealing guns and more from the coach’s house and ransacking the place.
Sanders violated bond after arrest, and posed for pictures online with gang members involved with stolen guns.
Fryar said Sanders’ claims of being sorry, and him crying in court, were crocodile tears.
“He was sorry - sorry he got caught,” Fryar said. “If he hadn’t been caught red-handed he would still be out there doing this.”
Henderson, the judge, had the final word. He said Sanders showed no mercy to anybody and that he would receive none back.
He called what Sanders did “mean” and “evil” and “heartless.”
“People should be able to feel safe in their home,” Henderson told Sanders. “You destroyed it. You put a gun to an 80-year-old woman’s head. That could have been your momma, your grand momma.”