SOUTH BEND — At times during her testimony Wednesday, Loria Perez had to fight back tears.
Though she spoke in a St. Joseph County courtroom filled with family representing both sides of a fatal shooting between two teenagers, Perez directed her words at Jaylin Tucker before he was sentenced on a voluntary manslaughter charge for killing her son, Kelvin Stanford Jr.
Stanford, known as K.J., and Tucker were “like brothers” Perez said, sharing toys and hanging out all the time. That bond, however, only made it all the more tragic when Tucker shot and killed Stanford in May 2020 while the 17-year-olds were hanging out at Perez’s house on East McKinley Avenue.
“I can’t help hurt from the mentality that my son killed my son,” Perez told Tucker. “K.J. wouldn’t have shot any of you, but you shot him nine times and left him lying there.”
After listening to testimony from family members, St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley sentenced Tucker, now 19 years old, to 13 years in prison and two years on work release.
Tucker had been charged with murder and attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to lesser charges of manslaughter and attempted battery as part of a plea deal that capped his sentence at 15 years.
“I don’t know what else to say about this case other than it’s sad,” Hurley said as she issued her ruling.
Before hearing his sentence both Tucker and his mother, Monica Patrick, apologized to Stanford’s family.
“For me to be in criminal court speaking on Jaylin’s behalf, it’s like a foreign concept, but heartbreaking nonetheless,” Patrick said.
Tucker added that he intends to continue his education while incarcerated,
“Sitting incarcerated these last two years has shown me a lot,” Tucker said. “I want to be a better man.”
'We are deadlocked'
At times earlier this year, Perez wasn’t sure if she’d get to speak on her son’s behalf in court. Tucker first went to trial in March, but the jury was unable to reach a verdict after seven hours of deliberation.
"We are deadlocked," the jury foreperson told the judge at the time after Tucker's attorney argued he had acted in self-defense.
Two months later, Tucker pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for prosecutors dismissing the murder count.
Stanford was shot and killed on May 13, 2020 at the house where he lived with Perez in the 1100 block of East McKinley Avenue when tempers flared among a group of five friends who were hanging out there.
The youngest person at the house, Tucker’s cousin, was 15 at the time and trial testimony indicated that Stanford began bullying the boy and saying he shouldn’t be hanging out with the older teenagers.
At one point in the evening, Stanford and the boy began to fight in the front yard of the house until the other teens separated them. Everyone went back inside and the berating continued. But witnesses gave conflicting narratives about what happened next.
The boy said Stanford stood in the doorway of the house and pointed a gun at him and told him to leave. According to the teen, Stanford told him “If you don’t leave, on my brother’s grave, I have a right to kill you.”
Other witnesses denied Stanford pointed his gun at anyone and said they thought Stanford was being "dumb," but didn't intend to shoot anyone.
“He wasn’t holding it like he was going to shoot it,” one witness testified.
Tucker then pulled out his own gun and shot Stanford multiple times. Before running out of the house, prosecutors say, Tucker also shot another teenager once in the leg.
One of Stanford’s older siblings, Anthony Mobley, was also killed in 2017 and in response to losing two of her children to gun violence, Perez co-founded the organization Connect 2 Be the Change, which focuses on helping young people work through conflict and learn life skills.
Email Marek Mazurek at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek
This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: South Bend teen sentenced after killing best friend during altercation