Judge urges end to gang violence in Lockport as killer is sentenced
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon has seen more than her share of the effects of gang violence. By deciding the fates of the accused, she does what she can to stop it.
As she prepared to send yet another young man off to prison Thursday, she said she is willing to do more.
“This violence in Lockport has to stop,” she said from the bench. “I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I’ll speak to your groups. Call me.”
Sheldon made the offer as she sentenced a Lockport teenager, who apparently tried to resist gang involvement, to 15 years in prison for a fatal stabbing in a street fight last year.
D’Vonne T. Clark, 18, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of firstdegree manslaughter after being indicted on a murder charge in the July 22 death of Elijah Wedington, 16, of Buffalo.
It happened as police said Wedington was beating up one of Clark’s friends in a fight in an alley off Pine Street. Clark, who was 17 at the time, pulled a knife and stabbed Wedington in the side.
Sheldon said she was impressed by letters from adults that told her Clark, of Caledonia Street, had tried to avoid being absorbed into street gangs, but since 2016, when he was 15, was being harassed and threatened with violence for his stance.
“There was always someone looking to fight him, harass him,” Sheldon read from one woman’s letter.
“These gangs are groups of lost souls, unwanted and unwatched,” another woman wrote. “Instead of being out in the street selling drugs, D’Vonne and his friends were out with shovels in the winter and lawn mowers in the summer, looking to make money.”
Sheldon said she had seen Facebook pictures of Wedington “brandishing a handgun.”
“I know why (Clark) had a knife, but I don’t know why he pulled it out and why he used it,” the judge said. “No one else had a weapon. No one else showed a weapon.”
“There was considerable back-and
forth between two groups of young men on the streets of Lockport,” Assistant District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said. “This time, somebody came armed with a weapon.”
“He felt he needed to bring a knife with him,” defense attorney Joseph A. Scalzo said. “He was concerned he’d be a victim of a gang assault.”
“I’m just tired of burying children. I’m tired of seeing children go to jail,” Tanisha Morrow, Wedington’s aunt, told Sheldon.
She faced Clark in the courtroom and said, “I want you to do something positive with yourself, young man.”
Clark, backed by about 30 friends and relatives in the audience, wept and hyperventilated as he tried to speak. “I have remorse for everything I’ve done to everyone in this courtroom,” Clark said. “Because of this incident, people are afraid to send their children outside. ... I just hope that one day, everyone will be able to forgive me.”
“My client made a split (-second) decision, which was the wrong decision,” Scalzo said. “A 16-year-old died, and he has to be held accountable for that.”
Scalzo asked for a 12-year sentence, while Hoffmann asked for 18 years, which was the sentencing limit Sheldon set when Clark pleaded guilty. The judge split the difference with a 15-year term. “I’m sentencing a 17-year-old for killing a 16-year-old,” Sheldon said. “What has this world come to?”
College students Tim Gay, left, and Connor Spencer work on retrofitting a car for Charlotte D’Aiutolo as part of the GoBabyGo! program.
The Town of Lockport IDA approved a 15-year incentive package for Verizon on a $28 million expansion of one of its two data centers. Story on Page C6.