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Former Heritage High School student sentenced to 10 years in shooting of two students last year: ‘I’m trying to redeem myself.’

Daily Press logo Daily Press 8/10/2022 Peter Dujardin, Daily Press
A 15-year-old then-Heritage High School student, identified by prosecutors as Jacari Taylor, runs through the school on Sept. 20 after prosecutors said he shot two students following an altercation. © Heritage High School/Daily Press/TNS A 15-year-old then-Heritage High School student, identified by prosecutors as Jacari Taylor, runs through the school on Sept. 20 after prosecutors said he shot two students following an altercation.

A former Heritage High School student was sentenced Friday to 10 years behind bars in a shooting that wounded two students at the school last fall.

Circuit Court Judge Christopher Papile sentenced Jacari Taylor — who was 15 at the time of the September shooting and is now 16 — to a blended sentence that will include juvenile detention and state prison time.

“I can’t ignore that he brought a gun to school, got into an altercation, and decided to pull the gun out, shooting it many times and hitting these two victims,” Papile said.

With the crowd of students in the hallway at the time, the judge said, “I’m flabbergasted that it wasn’t much worse.”

The Sept. 20 shooting came less than two weeks into the school year as about 1,200 students returned to full in-person classes at Heritage following pandemic lockdowns.

Word of the incident spread quickly on social media, with parents rushing to the Newport News high school en masse. Hundreds of students fled the building, while others hid in closets and barricaded classrooms. The school was closed for more than a month.

Taylor was arrested the day of the shooting after his father took him to turn himself in.

Prosecutors said Taylor and a 17-year-old student were arguing in the school cafeteria when the dispute spilled into a hallway. Surveillance footage shows Taylor and the other student falling to the floor, after which Taylor pulled out a gun and began shooting.

He fired several rounds before fleeing down the hallway, as dozens of students scattered. He ditched the gun in a trash can as he fled out a side door near the gymnasium.

One bullet entered behind the 17-year-old boy’s left ear, lodging in his lower left jaw, with the teen also struck in the leg and finger. Another round hit a 17-year-old girl in the shin as she ran. Both students have since recovered.

Taylor faced up to 65 years Friday after pleading guilty in April to two counts of malicious wounding and four gun counts.

Deputy Newport News Commonwealth’s Attorney Travis White asked for a sentence of 10 years and seven months, or the midpoint of state sentencing guidelines.

“What occurred ... was a destruction of that sense of safety that schools have, the school as a sanctuary,” White said Friday. “Every child should feel completely safe while there.”

The incident caused anxiety to “every parent who sat in the parking lot hoping it wasn’t their child who was shot,” he said.

But White said Taylor deserves credit for “not dragging the community through a protracted case” — he confessed to the crime, did not fight the transfer to adult court and pleaded guilty.

White called it one of the quickest cases he’s had from offense to sentence.

One of Taylor’s lawyers, Assistant Public Defender Emily Hunt, asked for five years, which was just below the low end of the guidelines. The sentence would have allowed Taylor to serve his entire time in the juvenile system.

Hunt said Taylor is a smart teen who is introspective and “amenable to change” and taking steps to improve himself.

“This started with a fight and started with fear,” Hunt said. “He did not go to school with anger or a desire to shoot other people ... This was not Columbine.”

Hunt noted that Taylor told a detective he took the gun to school that day because he was having a beef with another student and didn’t know how to fight. Taylor, then only 115 pounds at 5-foot-9, told detectives he wasn’t trying to kill anyone but opened fire so the other teen would “stop” and “get off me.”

Taylor’s father, Jamar Taylor, testified he talks to his son every other day, calling him “quiet, goofy ... and just like any other kid,” who did his chores and hung out with his siblings. “He tries to uplift (his siblings) and make sure they don’t be where he at,” he said.

A counselor with the Department of Juvenile Justice, Aaron Webb, testified he and Taylor have been working well together in recent months, with a key turning point being his “straight A’s” on a June report card.

Jacari Taylor declined to address Papile before the sentencing, but the judge read aloud a letter he submitted through his lawyer.

“I take responsibility for my actions,” Taylor wrote in part. “From the middle of my heart, I really apologize and hope you can see that I’m trying to make it all better ... Hurting people doesn’t make me happy or give me confidence ... I pray and hope you see that I’m trying to redeem myself.”

But Papile noted that Taylor’s time in juvenile custody — at least before the past few months — hasn’t always been without incident. That included such things threats against others, throwing a trash can around his pod and assaulting a fellow inmate in May, only five days after his guilty plea.

Papile also noted that at the time of the Heritage shooting, Taylor had another malicious wounding charge already pending against him.

“It wasn’t the first time he had taken out a gun and shot somebody,” the judge said Friday.

In July 2020, when Taylor was 14, he was charged with shooting a teen on 35th Street and Orcutt Avenue. He pleaded guilty to that charge in March 2021 and was still awaiting a final disposition.

In September of 2021 — only a couple of weeks before the Heritage shooting — a juvenile court judge ordered him to wear an electronic ankle monitor to better track his whereabouts.

Papile said Taylor had numerous chances to change his ways at the time, but didn’t take advantage of the opportunities.

The judge asked Friday if there was a relationship between the two shootings, and Hunt confirmed a partial link. She didn’t spell out the specific connection, but said both shootings stemmed from disputes others were having with Taylor’s brother.

Papile sentenced Taylor to 45 years on the charges from the Heritage shooting — two malicious wounding counts and four gun charges — but suspended 35, reducing the active time to 10 years. The judge also ordered Taylor to stay away from the shooting victims and pay about $6,281 in medical bills for one victim.

“You might think what I am doing is severe,” Papile told him. “But you will be a very young person when you get out. You will be in your 20s, and you will have your whole life ahead of you.”

Peter Dujardin, 757-897-2062, pdujardin@dailypress.com

©2022 Daily Press. Visit dailypress.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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