Parole now possible for two men sentenced to life as juveniles

Two men sentenced to life in prison for a fatal drive-by shooting they took part in as minors had their sentences reduced Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting.

Darnell Foxx, who was 15 at the time he pulled the trigger in 1997, was sentenced to 73 years in prison by Cook County Judge Michael Obbish. Factoring in time off for good behavior and subtracting the 19 years he’s already served, Foxx could be out of prison in 18 years.

Foxx’s cousin, Javell Ivory, who 17 and armed but didn’t fire any shots, received a 54-year sentence. He, too, has already served 19 years. If he behaves behind bars he could be out in eight years. Both men faced first-degree murder and gun charges.

Theirs is the fourth juvenile resentencing case to be heard in Illinois since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences without the chance of parole is unconstitutional, said Foxx’s attorney, David Owens.

Foxx thought he was aiming at rival gang members. He was mistaken and killed two innocent people: Salada Smith, 24, who was six months pregnant, and Joshua Thomas, 21. Two others were injured.

Before handing down new sentences, Obbish discussed the factors that influenced his decision.

Both men received high school equivalency certificates behind bars and neither had committed major infractions. Both said that upon release they planned to share their stories with other wayward youths to prevent them from making similar mistakes.

“And one has to consider their age and the hallmark features of youth,” Obbish said before rattling off a list that included immaturity, recklessness and peer pressure.

Sometimes children “lack the ability to extract themselves from certain crime-producing circumstances,” he said.

An expert witness previously testified that human brains are not fully developed until the age of 25. And Obbish said he sensed true remorse from each man as they apologized to victims last month in court.

“But these two men still made some rather terrible choices, obviously, in their lives,” Obbish said. “And they were choices. People have a choice.”

Many children unfortunately grow up in neighborhoods that double as gang war zones “but not everyone succumbs . . . some have a moral compass,” he said.

“They joined a gang,” said Obbish, noting that the name of the gang — Mafia Insane Vice Lords — should have been a hint things would not go well.

“Which one of these words might say “Well, it will be OK?” said Obbish.

Christine Buckner, who’s son, Joshua Thomas, was killed in the shooting, said after the hearing Monday that she preferred the men remain behind bars for life.

“They didn’t change. As soon as they hit the streets again they’re going to go get a little blunt, get a bottle of beer and some hoochies and live the same lives again,” Buckner said.

“Why should they get to roam free again?” said Buckner, noting that her son had a son of his own who is growing up without a father. “I accept their apology, but the only way I could forgive them is if my son comes back alive.”

For Obrellia Smith, who’s daughter, Salada Smith, died in the shooting, the resentencing offers the promise to lend meaning to her daughter’s death.

Instead of “just crying and sadness, sadness, sadness” when she thought about her daughter in the past, now she will be able to take comfort in thinking that perhaps the boys who killed her will one day be able to guide kids away from walking the same troubled path they took.

“Even though this is a tragedy, I believe good can come out of any tragedy,” she said.