Stabbing death at Raleigh fireworks show leads to 17-year prison sentence
Posted August 1, 2016 5:39 p.m. EDT
Updated August 1, 2016 6:47 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A Raleigh man was sentenced Monday to at least 17 years in prison for a fatal stabbing during a Fourth of July fireworks show two years ago.
Jerome Lee Gardner, 22, pleaded guilty in January to second-degree murder in the death of 16-year-old Tahje Alexander Mials.
Police said a fight over a girl escalated into a brawl between two groups, and Mials was stabbed in the chest at the intersection of South Wilmington and East Cabarrus streets.
Detective Eric Gibney said Monday that neither Gardner nor Mials knew the girl and that both got "sucked in" to the ensuing melee. Gardner told investigators that he took out his knife and swung it after getting hit a few times, Gibney said, and he then panicked and ran home.
"Tahje came to celebrate with his friends and family. Jerome came with a knife," Wake County Assistant District Attorney Mark Stevens said. "Jerome murdered Tahje over something silly, immature, juvenile."
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens agreed.
"I try to make sense out of this, folks, but none if it makes any sense," Stephens said. "This makes no sense. This should not have happened."
Defense attorney Alton Williams said Gardner had always taken care of his siblings while their mother worked, and he was trying to take care of his brother during the fight.
"This was his brother's fight," Williams said. "It doesn't excuse his behavior."
Gardner apologized to Mials' family in court.
"I know there's nothing I can say to justify my actions, but as far as the knife, I never had any intentions of harming anyone," he said.
Mials' family didn't agree with that stance.
"When you made a decision to pull out your knife, you had every intention on killing him," the Millbrook High School student's aunt said. "You could have chosen so many other options."
Tina Mials said she and her husband let their son go to the fireworks show only because other relatives would be there.
"We put so much into our son in the hopes that he would make the right choices and do the right thing," she said.
Tina Mials said she never got the chance to see her son drive, go to prom or graduate from high school.
"There's no hatred from me and my house. I just pray for you," she told Gardner. "As you go on with life, I pray that you take heed to today, and if you haven't already begun, that today would be your fresh start."