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Family forgives boy's shooter in sentencing hearing; judge doesn't

Joshua Banks

Joshua Banks

LAWRENCEVILLE -- After a middle school football game one Saturday, Tre Shambry loaded into a school bus with 100 fellow students in Paulding County and helped with clean-up efforts when historic floods ravaged homes in Smyrna. In the eyes of his coach, it was a portrait of who Tre was: selfless, devoted, giving.

Among those volunteers were teammates who would be pallbearers at Tre's funeral in Mississippi, where his mother hailed from, and where he liked to kick his shoes off and run through the country mud, the rush of city life a distant hassle.

"He was a young man who gave selflessly," said Michael Morris, Tre's football coach before he uprooted to Creekland Middle School in Lawrenceville. "A young man who had everything going for him."

Morris, five of his former players and Tre's parents gave victim impact statements Thursday morning, prior to a judge's sentencing of Joshua Banks, 27, convicted of killing Tre when he drunkenly fired a handgun into the air in an apartment complex parking lot two years ago.

Tre, hanging off his bunk bed, spying the commotion outside, was hit once in the abdomen. His mother and two younger sisters found him bleeding and unresponsive. He never regained consciousness.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Boswell sentenced Banks to serve 17 years in prison -- three years short of the maximum on involuntary manslaughter and weapons counts he was convicted of last month, and about twice the sentence Banks' defense asked for. Indicted for felony murder, Banks had skirted a possible life sentence.

Banks declined a pre-trial plea deal of 20 years without parole on involuntary manslaughter charges, Assistant District Attorney Karen Harris said Thursday.

Standing at a podium within feet of the man who shot dead their friend, pupil and son, those who knew Tre had few harsh words for the shooter. Instead, they expressed hope that the experience would change Banks, that prison would set him on some more virtuous path. They recalled Tre as a devout Christian who loved animals, video games and who dreamed of suiting up for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.

"He meant the world to us," said Jake Page, a football teammate who met Tre in sixth grade. "He was doing nothing (wrong) and he didn't deserve to be taken away from his friends and family."

Tre's mother, Tijuana Shambry, repeatedly turned at the podium to face Banks, and like others she spoke of striving to forgive.

"Regardless of the sentence, use this day to make a change in your life," Tijuana Shambry said. "Change your life and make good of it."

Added Tre's father, Fred Shambry: "We forgive Mr. Banks ... we want to close this chapter."

The only vitriol toward Banks came from Harris, who reminded the judge it took police more than six months to find and charge him with murder, though Banks knew from media reports the day after the Jan. 18, 2010 incident that his shots killed the boy.

"Mercy is for those who come forward honestly repentant for what they've done, not for people who hide and then lie (to detectives)," Harris said.

Because of four prior felony convictions on counts such as forgery, marijuana possession, burglary and theft by receiving between 2003 and 2010, Banks is considered a recidivist, and thus won't be eligible for parole. His conviction on involuntary manslaughter, which was offered to jurors as an alternative to felony murder, marked his first violent offense.

By all accounts, the killing was accidental.

"I'm not no harmful person," a shackled and contrite Banks told the court, prior to sentencing. "My heart goes out to the family ... I wouldn't want a 13-year-old boy to get hurt."

Boswell cautioned Banks to "straighten up (or) you're going to end up dead." The sentence will be followed by three years probation with mandatory alcohol and drug treatment, the judge ordered.

Even defense attorney Xavier Dicks said testimony from the state's witnesses had moved him. In years of practicing around the country, said Dicks, "I've not seen a family walk up to this podium and not one of them said a harsh word," he said. "These people exemplify what Christians really are."