GOSHEN — A 16-year-old from Elkhart faces three decades in prison for shooting a man over an alleged video game theft.
Byron Harris Jr. was sentenced to 32 years in prison during a hearing in Elkhart County Circuit Court Thursday. He was convicted of a Level 1 felony charge of attempted murder June 5 following a three-day trial.
A jury found Harris guilty of shooting a man in the leg and injuring him on a playground at the River Run Apartment complex on Prairie Street in Elkhart in June 2018. The victim told investigators Harris believed the victim stole a game and retaliated.
“You took the law into your own hands to get justice for a prior robbery,” Judge Michael Christofeno told Harris, pointing out the shooting could have killed the victim or an innocent bystander.
Calling the act “heinous,” Christofeno sentenced Harris to 30 years and added seven years for aggravating circumstances, and then suspended five years to probation.
Harris’ age and maturity level were the focus of arguments during the sentencing hearing.
His attorney, Jeffrey Majerek, sought a 20-year prison sentence with time in a juvenile facility so he can finish working to receive his high school diploma. Majerek said Harris has nearly completed the process through The Crossing while in custody at the Jail.
He indicated the attempted murder case was a wake-up call for Harris to mature and face the consequences of a criminal past.
“He’s a kid,” Majerek said, describing how some of Harris’ behavior at trial was childlike. “He’s going to have to grow up darn quick to survive and get out.”
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Susan Snyder sought a 32-year prison term while arguing this case, which put Harris in the adult court system, provoked Harris to start taking responsibility.
She said programs, punishments and services in the juvenile system failed to curb Harris’ criminal behavior, which included cases of violence. Harris began focusing on his education after he was transferred out of juvenile court and jailed to face the attempted murder charge, she said.
“You were able to accomplish more in the adult system than we were able to accomplish in the juvenile system,” Snyder told Christofeno. “The juvenile system could not separate him from that gun.”
Snyder noted Harris’ criminal history started when he was 9 years old and robbed another child of a bicycle at gunpoint. He was also a runaway from Bashor Children’s Home when he shot in the victim in this case.
Harris acknowledged his past in a statement to the court and said he realizes now he must change.
“I have a lot of growing up to do and to rehabilitate,” Harris said. “I want to do better.”
Christofeno denied Majerek’s request for Harris do time in a juvenile facility, saying a 20-year sentence was inappropriate “for trying to kill another human being.”
“You’re beyond rehabilitation in the juvenile system,” he said.
Christofeno sentenced Harris as an adult, saying he needs to protect the community from his “further escapades of criminal activity.”
Harris indicated he intends to appeal the conviction, and a new public defender was appointed to handle that case.
He also still faces two cases charging him with escape, possession of methamphetamine and resisting arrest in Circuit Court.
Christofeno took no action on those cases during the sentencing, but scheduled a status hearing on them for Aug. 1.
Several other hearings were held in Circuit Court Thursday.
Among them, Michael L. Polachek, Elkhart, avoided prison but faces nearly a decade on home detention for violating his probation.
Polachek admitted he tested positive for methamphetamine on a drug screen in March. He was on probation as part of a sentence that included prison time from a methamphetamine dealing conviction in 2008.
Judge Christofeno revoked Polachek’s probation, re-imposed an eight-year prison sentence but ordered an alternate placement on home detention through Michiana Community Corrections.
Aimee Ambrose can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 316.