Four teenagers made a series of bad decisions, turning to crime as a means for quick money. One boy only got $10 for his part in a violent home invasion that left a northwest Atlanta father critically injured, with gunshots to both legs.
In the end, it cost all four boys much more — their freedom. And for one family, the horrifying night has been replaced with forgiveness, thankfulness and a new friend.
The oldest of the four defendants, Brandon Jerome Smith, was the first to accept a plea deal Thursday morning in a Fulton County courtroom. Smith, who turned 19 on Jan. 21, was admittedly the leader of the group that forced its way into the Lash family’s home in August. He was sentenced to life in prison, plus 20 years and an additional five years. The sentence means Smith will likely spend at least 45 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Smith never spoke to Michael and Whitney Lash, both seated in the courtroom with family members, nor glanced at them. But he quietly responded to questions about whether he understood the conditions of a plea deal.
“Yes, ma’am,” Smith said, barely audible, even through a microphone.
Smith’s attorney said he was under the influence of a variety of drugs the day he led three other teenagers to the Lash family home on Sumter Street. After growing up in poverty and surrounded by drug use and violence, Smith also began using drugs as a child, his attorney said. Marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs were included.
The remaining three defendants — Veshawn Smith, 15, and Trequan Sutton and Quindarius Slade, both 16, each pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon and were sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Two defendants apologize
“All it takes is one lapse in judgment and it can terribly affect your lives,” Judge Henry Newkirk said. “You will get out of prison one day, and believe it or not, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.”
Two boys apologized to the family, and a relative also stood at the podium, apologizing repeatedly. The Lashes said they have forgiven the boys, but said their lives were forever changed in a matter of minutes.
On Aug. 16, the Lashes, along with their two children, had just returned home from a vacation on Rosemary Beach, tanned and relaxed. The next morning, Michael was to start a new job.
There was a knock on the front door, and Michael Lash opened the door to two teenagers asking for a car jack. He didn’t have one, but he offered to give the boys a ride if they were stranded, he later told investigators.
The boys didn’t want or need a jack and had walked to the neighborhood, looking for a house to rob. They picked out the Lash home because through a window they could see a flat-screen television on the wall, prosecutors said.
Bullets miss mother, child
When Smith pulled out a gun, Lash offered him his car or any possessions. His young son was asleep upstairs, and his wife and then 6-month-old daughter were in the back of the house.
“We’re a Christian family,” Lash said to the teens. “You can have anything we have, but I can’t let you into this house.”
After threatening to shoot, Smith did, hitting Lash in both legs. Whitney, holding baby Lucy, ran out the back door of the home, calling 911 as all four teens rushed into her house. Smith followed the two out of the house, narrowly missing the mother and child with more bullets.
Within minutes, Atlanta police Officer Tyler Thomas arrived at the home, but all four teens were long gone, having swiped cell phones, a Kindle and a computer, according to prosecutors. Thomas was nearby, and lived in the area. In court Thursday, Thomas said he and other officers found Lash bleeding just inside the front door.
When a tourniquet and elevating a leg didn’t stop the bleeding, Thomas relied on his instinct.
“I actually had to plug Mr. Lash’s wounds with my fingers,” Thomas said.
Survivor’s goal: A triathlon
Lash was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital and later underwent surgery to insert a metal rod from his knee to his hip in his right leg. It has been a painful recovery, and because of nerve damage he might never regain feeling in one foot, he said Thursday.
After staying with relatives for a month, the Lashes have returned to their home. Officer Thomas and his wife and child have become close friends with the Lash family, attending the same church.
When court ended Thursday, Lash said his next goal is a bold one. He plans to compete in a triathlon before the one-year anniversary of being shot.
Thomas said he’ll support his new friend.
“If you can do it, I’ll do it with you.”