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Lawrenceville man sentenced to life in killing

LAWRENCEVILLE - A Lawrenceville man was sentenced Wednesday to two life sentences plus 25 years for killing a former Central Gwinnett High School football player during a marijuana deal gone bad last year.

Cleondre Lamarr Lacey, 20, was sentenced to life in prison by Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Tom Davis for the felony murder of Kenneth Brett Cunningham. In addition, he was sentenced to life in prison for armed robbery during the March 2007 incident.

Davis also imposed a 20-year sentence for aggravated assault against Paul Theodore Mayhew - a friend of Cunningham's who Lacey shot and injured - and a five-year sentence for weapons possession.

Prior to sentencing Lacey - who remained stoic throughout the two-hour hearing in a green jail-issued jumpsuit and declined to formerly address the court - Davis acknowledged that Cunningham's slaying and the circumstances surrounding it were "an American tragedy."

"I can't put it right, I can't undo what has happened," he said. "These were young men and women starting their lives as adults and looking forward to what life had in store for them."

Lacey - who shook his head when the charges against him were read aloud and showed no reaction to his sentence - fatally shot Cunningham, 17, during a botched drug deal in the teen's parent's Lawrenceville home. Lacey also shot Mayhew during the fracas, seriously injuring him.

Lacey's admitted getaway driver, Stephanie Brianna Buskey, 21, was sentenced by Davis prior to Lacey's emotionally charged hearing. Buskey will serve a 15-year sentence - eight of which will be served in state prison, followed by seven years of probation - on robbery and drug charges. She initially was charged with murder, but after agreeing to be a witness for the prosecution, that charge was dropped.

In a tearful appeal to Cunningham's friends and family, Buskey begged for forgiveness.

"I pray for you all, every single night," she said. "I'm so sorry it happened. I can't imagine not having my child. Until I take my last breath, I'm so sorry."

About 15 friends and family of Cunningham and Mayhew attended the late afternoon hearing, some holding hands and quietly sobbing.

Members of Lacey's family were also in attendance. Outside the courtroom, they held a quiet prayer.

Cunningham's mother, Tammy, urged the court to implement the maximum sentence against Lacey. She said her son's death has "shattered" her family. Cunningham's three brothers have suffered the most, she said.

"This boy took Brett, he took our stability ... he took all of our confidence," she said. "And now, his brothers have to figure out who they are again."

Dallas Wilson, a cousin of Lacey's father who said he is a minister, read a letter to the court expressing the family's feelings. It stated that Lacey's life was "punctuated by greatness" prior to Cunningham's murder.

"This has definitely been a wake-up call for Cleondre, as well as all the families involved," he said.

After the hearing, Tammy Cunningham said she was "pleased" with Lacey's sentence.

"He won't be able to destroy anyone else's family," she said.

Outside the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center building, Lacey's uncle, Marlon, argued that his nephew had not received a fair trail.

"There are things that happened that people don't know," he said.

Keith Martin, Lacey's attorney, said he will file an appeal with Davis within the next 72 hours.

"Judge Davis ran a very clean trial," he said. "We just want another set of eyes on it now."