The family of Christopher Manley wanted a Franklin County judge to know that he was more than the drug dealer he had become just before his death.
"In an effort to provide for his family, he made bad decisions that cost him his life," said Mary Money, an aunt, during a sentencing hearing yesterday for the man convicted of killing Manley during a drug deal at a South Side trailer park.
Beau Stephenson, 31, continued to insist that he was defending himself during a struggle over a handgun that Manley had pulled on him, but Common Pleas Judge Kim Brown wasn’t swayed.
"The jury found (an eyewitness) to be more credible than your self-defense claims," she told him. "I do believe that you are a danger to society."
She sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole for 31 years. She was influenced in part by Stephenson’s criminal history, which kept him in prison for a third of his life.
In August, a jury found Stephenson guilty of murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, tampering with evidence and illegally possessing a gun in the death of Manley, 40, on Jan. 28, 2013. The murder conviction carries a mandatory sentence of 15 years to life. The judge added seven years for the aggravated robbery, three years for tampering and six years for a pair of gun specifications.
Defense attorney Adam Nemann suggested the minimum sentence. Assistant Prosecutor Doug Stead told the judge that the defendant "doesn’t deserve to walk the streets."
Stephenson testified that he went to Manley’s home at 1049 Harmon Ave. in the Caravan Village trailer park to discuss a drug-dealing partnership, but Manley confronted him about counterfeit money that Stephenson had given him in an earlier drug deal. He said the struggle began when Manley pointed a gun at him in the kitchen.
That account was disputed by Manley’s uncle Henry Romine, who lived in the trailer. He testified that Stephenson grabbed a handgun from a kitchen table in an attempt to rob them and then shot Manley when he resisted.
Romine said Stephenson forced him at gunpoint to hand over a hard drive containing video from the trailer’s surveillance system.
More than a dozen of Manley’s family members and friends were in the courtroom, some holding pictures of him and some wearing his name and image on T-shirts. Two of his aunts and his mother told the judge that Manley had supported his family, including five children, with honest labor until an illness caused him to lose his job as a tow-truck operator.
"Chris had no record, had never been in trouble before this," said his mother, Della Manley. "He was the glue that held the family together. He was nothing like he was portrayed (in the trial)."
She urged the judge to send Stephenson to prison for as long as possible.
Stephenson admitted during his trial testimony that he had never held a legitimate job, preferring instead to run the streets and use and sell drugs.
He apologized during yesterday’s hearing.
"For what it’s worth, I want the family to know I’m very sorry they lost a loved one," he said. "I really mean it."