Michael Jones had just turned 29, but he was autistic and functioned at about the level of an 11-year-old. His mother said he never met a stranger.
When a robber walked into the BD Convenience Store at 1601 S. Hydraulic and demanded money last November, most customers backed away. Jones instinctively tried to reason with the man with the gun.
“He was simply walking up to him, trying to get him to make a better choice,” District Judge Faith Maughan said Thursday. “And for that he paid the ultimate price.”
Maughan’s comments came after she sentenced the man who shot and killed Jones to more than 64 years in prison – the maximum – for second-degree murder and five other charges.
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Wichita police said Jackson Bryant, 20, shot Jones after pointing a gun at a clerk and demanding money. Jones, a frequent visitor to the store at Harry and Hydraulic, died of a gunshot wound to the head. Bryant left without any money and was arrested a few blocks away after firing several shots in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of South Greenwood. Two vehicles parked on Greenwood were struck by bullets.
Bryant originally was charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in January. Prosecutor Mandee Schauf said the plea bargain had nothing to do with shaky evidence.
“We thought this defendant needed to go to prison for as long as possible,” she said. “This is one of those rare circumstances where he actually does more time” for second-degree murder than he would with a first-degree murder conviction.
With a criminal history that included three prior convictions for crimes against persons, Bryant faced a minimum sentence of 49 1/3 years on the second-degree murder conviction. Even with good-time credits, that’s more than the 25 years he would have to serve before becoming eligible for parole on a first-degree murder conviction.
Bryant’s lawyer, Christine Jones, said her client never intended to hurt anyone in the robbery, and she said he fired the shot as a knee-jerk reaction when Michael Jones approached him. She said Bryant took full responsibility for his actions.
“He was absolutely adamant from Day One that we were not getting past the preliminary hearing without pleading guilty,” she said. “He said, ‘I shot the dude; how am I going to plead not guilty?’ ”
Bryant declined an opportunity to address the court.
Jones’ mother, Debra Dewitt, told the judge that she moved with her son to Wichita from Cottonwood Falls for medical treatment. She said her son suffered from brain seizures, and that his failing kidneys were threatening to cut his life short.
Jones was a big wrestling fan, Dewitt said, and when she asked him what he’d want if he had one wish, he didn’t hesitate to answer: a trip to WrestleMania 30 in New Orleans.
Dewitt splurged and bought a World Wrestling Entertainment package that would have allowed Jones to spend a week with his wrestling heroes and even bring home a commemorative folding chair.
“We were supposed to leave April 24,” Dewitt said.
Instead, Dewitt said, she and her family will be trying to get over her son’s death.
“It just seems like a big nightmare,” she said. “He was a big part of our life. I don’t know how we’re going to get back on track.
“I never thought I would have a life without Michael.”