CONYERS — Sounds of weeping family members resounded in the courtroom Thursday afternoon, but there were only blank expressions on the faces of convicted murderers Torrence Sanders and Ntyono Pennie after Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation sentenced the two men to life in prison without parole.
A jury found Sanders and Pennie guilty on all counts related to the February 2010 incident in which the pair robbed a group of men at an apartment complex on Harvest Grove Lane, fled from law enforcement, then crashed into the vehicle driven by 56-year-old Shirley Ann Akins of Covington. Akins died from injuries sustained in the crash.
Covington attorney Brian Ross defended Pennie and Decatur attorney Chris Flinn was Sanders' attorney. Both attorneys asked for a life sentence with the possibility of parole.
The men served as co-defendants in the three-day trial. A jury deliberated for nearly three hours before Nation convened court about 3:30 p.m. Thursday for the verdict announcement.
Rockdale County District Attorney Richard Read recommended the life without parole sentence shortly following the verdict. He also presented Sanders' past criminal history, but no criminal history of Pennie.
Read acknowledged the sentence recommendations were severe and explained how Rockdale County had been spared from the "lawlessness that plagues other metro Atlanta communities."
"But, recently there have been a number of individuals who have looked on Rockdale County as further ground to spread this type of crime in our community," Read said. "I feel compelled as district attorney to stand and ask the court to send a strong message that behavior of this type and behavior of the type of lawlessness that we have seen over the last 12 to 24 months will not be tolerated in this community."
Pennie's mother-in-law testified in the sentencing hearing, saying Pennie is married with three children.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," she said.
Sanders' mother said her son would never willfully hurt anyone and asked the judge to have mercy.
"I just don't feel that it's necessary to make an example of someone due to a choice that they made," she said. "Someone should not be made an example to pay for all the crimes that have gone on here in Rockdale."
Barbara Hodges, Akins' younger sister from Tennessee, also testified before the sentencing, describing Akins as more than a case number, but "a real person" whose life was "about giving and serving people, her fellow man." The court learned Akins weekly visited the nursing home and was a Desert Storm veteran, retiring as a captain in the U.S. Army National Guard after 20 years of service.
Hodges read her prepared statement and often looked up from the page at Pennie and Sanders.
"This reckless disregard for life has deeply impacted my family. Life will never be the same," Hodges said.
She closed by asking the court for the maximum sentence.
Nation explained sentencing served four purposes: punishment, rehabilitation, separation, and deterrence. He said the sentence is not so much about making example of the defendants.
"I believe the people of this state, of this county, have the right to say, ‘We don't want to be hurt anymore,' ‘We don't want to lose another one of our own anymore, and we're sick and tired of this behavior,'" Nation said. "Mr. Pennie and Mr. Sanders, in my judgment, are both equally responsible ... and you both will get the same punishment and that's going to be life without parole. I don't want either of you to hurt anybody else ever in your lifetime."