Donnell Flora rolled his wheelchair into a Cook County courtroom Monday, wearing a gray jailhouse jumpsuit and with a Bible resting in his lap.
Flora was paralyzed from the waist down in a shooting in 2010, an experience prosecutors argued should have given the 27-year-old the wisdom to counsel his teenage niece as her rivalry with another girl flared up into threats and violence.
But when the girls’ feud reached a fever pitch one night in April 2014, Flora instead handed the teenager a gun, Judge Thaddeus Wilson said as he gave Flora a 100-year sentence for murder and attempted murder.
Flora’s niece fired the borrowed .38 revolver at her 16-year-old rival, Lanekia Reynolds, as the girl ran into her Back of the Yards home with her 14-year-old friend, Endia Martin. A bullet grazed Lanekia’s arm; Endia was shot and killed.
“There are no excuses or rationalization for giving a child a gun to take to a ridiculous fight about a boy,” Judge Thaddeus Wilson growled at Flora from the bench.
“Children in this city are dying by the hundreds because adults fail to and/or refuse to be adults.”
Flora rocked in his wheelchair for most of the hour-long hearing Monday, staring at the table in front of him as friends and family read off statements about the pain of Endia’s death.
Cheers erupted from the courtroom gallery, filled with about a dozen of Endia’s relatives, as Wilson announced the 100-year prison term. Flora, his head bowed over the defense table, smiled and shook his head.
“I’m sorry for what happened,” Flora had told the judge moments before, asking for prayers and forgiveness from Endia’s loved ones.
“It never was supposed to go the way it went. I wish I could trade places with that young lady, but I can’t.”
Repeating the argument he made unsuccessfully at Flora’s trial in January, lawyer Joel Brodsky said that Flora brought the gun only as protection for his niece, as the girl marched with a gaggle of friends to the Back of the Yards home where Endia and her friends were staying. Flora had instructed the girl to give the gun to her 34-year-old cousin, Vandetta Redwood.
As the argument between the girl and Endia and her friends grew more heated, Redwood allegedly gave Flora’s niece the pistol and goaded her, saying “Shoot the b—-,” before the girl opened fire on Endia and Lanekia.
Flora’s niece, now 16, faces murder and attempted murder charges in juvenile court, and is set to go to trial in April. Redwood faces federal charges in the shooting.
Noting that Flora had stepped into a role as surrogate dad to his niece after the girl’s father had been killed, Assistant State’s Attorney Athena Farmakis said Endia’s shooting represents a “total breakdown of the family hierarchy.”
“Many men who have injuries from a gunshot wound, they change themselves,” Assistant State’s Attorney Athena Farmakis said. “Donnell Flora made choices totally opposite that. He brought in a young, impressionable 14-year old, he brought her into this cycle of violence.”
As he left the courthouse after Flora’s sentencing, Endia’s stepfather, Kent Kennedy, said that he wished that his stepdaughter’s teenage killer also could spend decades in prison. More likely, the girl’s sentence in juvenile court will see her released when she turns 21.
“You can’t put little murderers back on the street. What’s usually going to happen? She going to do another violent crime,” Kennedy said. “That kind of role model, where you see your uncle is in a wheelchair, you [should] say to yourself, ‘I don’t want to end up like that.’
“ It’s like an unending cycle.”