'Gun violence has become a plague': 25-year-old sentenced in 2 murders
By the time Jerome Bent is eligible for parole, he will have spent more than half his life behind bars. The 25-year-old Toronto man who murdered two young men in the span of two months was sentenced for both deaths on Friday afternoon.
"Gun violence has become a plague on our community and it's an epidemic," Justice John McMahon said before sentencing Bent. "I'm tired of seeing mothers devastated by the loss of their young sons. I'm tired of seeing mothers devastated by me sentencing their sons to life in prison."
The first murder happened May 10, 2012.
Delano Coombs was 27 when, on that sunny afternoon, he drove down a laneway at 4020 Dundas St. The father of two was met by three males, including Bent, who was armed with a gun, "with the planned and deliberate intent of killing Mr. Coombs," McMahon said.
Shots were fired through the windshield. Coombs, injured by the gunfire, made his way out of the car in a bid to escape. As he lay on the pavement, one of the three males "stood over Mr. Coombs, who was helpless on the ground, and shot him several more times at close range," McMahon said.
Emergency crews arrived within minutes, but Coombs could not be saved. He died in hospital.
The second murder happened during the early morning hours of July 19, 2012. It was in a schoolyard in Flemington Park, in the area of Lawrence Avenue and Allen Road. Daniel Davis was also 27.
It was a time of heightened awareness for Torontonians and gun violence. Three days earlier, two people were killed and nearly two dozen were injured by gunfire at a community barbecue on Danzig Street.
Davis' murder was unrelated to the Danzig Street violence but related, as it turned out, to the murder of Coombs two months earlier. Their murders were linked by one of the men who killed them: Jerome "Germz" Bent.
Davis was with friends on the basketball court when three people approached, spoke briefly, "and then began to shoot him repeatedly for no apparent reason," McMahon said.
By the time emergency crews arrived moments later, Davis was already dead.
Project Sugarhorse enlisted 'police agent'
In the months that followed, police launched "Project Sugarhorse," an investigation into several unsolved homicides and shootings in 2012 and 2013 -- among them, the murders of Coombs and Davis.
Investigators enlisted the help of a "police agent" who was known to Bent. The agent listened to conversations while wearing a "body pack" recording device. Bent not only admitted to the killings, but went through them in detail, even describing the guns that were used. His information was corroborated by forensic evidence already collected by police.
"These handguns go from violent offence to violent offence, leaving families and their victims it their wake," McMahon said.
By the time Bent was arrested the following year, he was already behind bars for possession of a weapon -- the same weapon, as it turned out, that was used to shoot Davis.
Bent pleaded guilty in July 2015 to the first-degree murder of Coombs and the second-degree murder of Davis.
Victim impact statements
Before sentencing Bent on Friday, Justice McMahon heard victim impact statements from the mothers of the two victims.
"Delano Coombs is my son," Aleena Suban told the court. "I never knew what it was like to have a nervous breakdown, but I came close after his death."
Suban recalled the day Coombs was born, Aug. 25, 1984. The youngest of six children arrived 15 days late, his birth finally brought on after his mother washed "a big load of laundry" and "took a long walk on Albion Road," hoping to go into labour.
"What I don't understand is why this happened to me and why my son was murdered. He was taken away from us. Jerome Bent wounded me and my family for no reason. We are scarred by his actions for life," Suban said.
Davis' mother spoke next.
"Daniel is not just my child. He's my first born. He's the eldest of all my children," Andrea Wilks said.
"My life is now lived in fear, just looking over my shoulder constantly because that's just the kind of world we live in," Wilks said. "How can you go on knowing my son was not sick? He was tragically taken from us. It's a constant reminder of how cold this world is."
Wilks said she is still in debt from her son's funeral, adding she still can't afford a headstone for his grave.
McMahon referred later to Wilks' victim impact statement.
"I cannot capture the devastation of the families as well as it was captured by Ms. Wilks, the mother of Daniel Davis. Very simply, she writes as follows: 'No words can explain how I really feel. If one could only see my heart, how it's broken into pieces. No words can explain how I feel.' I think that summarizes that the families will live with the devastation of this for the rest of their lives," McMahon said.
Sentencing reflects ruthless nature of crimes
While Bent's first-degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years, the judge had to decide parole ineligibility for the second-degree murder conviction. Both the defence and the Crown suggested 15 years, served at the same time as the first-degree murder sentence.
The judge agreed. And so, though Bent was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 15 years for the murder of Daniel Davis, he won't be able to apply for parole for 25 years because of the murder of Delano Coombs.
During the sentencing, McMahon noted that Bent, too, had been touched by violence. His father was murdered near Jane Street and Finch Avenue West when Bent was a young child.
Just as Bent had to grow up without a father, so too must Davis' daughter and Coombs' sons.
While Bent's guilty pleas were seen as "a sign of remorse, a positive step when looking at rehabilitation and an eventual re-integration into the community," McMahon also considered the fact that Coombs and Davis were killed a little more than two months apart from each other, both by guns.
"Routinely, they (guns) are used to intimidate, threaten, rob, maim and kill," McMahon said. "More often than not, the people dying are young men in the community who tragically and senselessly lose their lives."
Bent was 22 when he pulled the trigger on Coombs and Davis, two young men who the court heard were killed because of prior beefs.
"I am going to be sending a young man to a sentence of life imprisonment where he will have spent more time in custody than he has been alive to this point before he can apply for parole," McMahon said.
"I'm sure everyone joins me in this court wishing we could replay the events of May 10 and July 19, 2012. Unfortunately, we cannot. Sadly, firearms do not give people an opportunity to redo events."
Asked whether he would like to say anything before being sentenced, Bent declined.
'It's over,' victims sister says
Several court officers were present in the courtroom for the hearing, keeping a particularly close eye on a group of young men who were there to support Bent and who, after Bent was sentenced, exchanged heated words with one of the victims' families in the hallway of the courthouse.
The mother of one of the victims expressed concern to a police officer that the young men were there, but she was informed that they had the right to be in the courtroom as members of the public.
The victims' families were escorted out of the front of the courthouse by court officers, while Bent's supporters left through a different exit.
"It's over," Coombs' sister Toni Tenille Rodney responded when asked how she felt about the sentencing. "It's over and justice totally wasn't served because my brother's dead, but...you know, (Bent) is going to be away and hopefully he can think about what he did."
"It's sad because everybody's affected, not just us, but (Bent's) family as well," said another of Coombs' sisters, Tricia Rodney, adding that the process restored her faith in police and the justice system.
And to all the gun-toting young men of Toronto, she said: "You guys are wasting your lives. We live in a country that's full of so much prospect. It's sad that's how you have to settle a disagreement or argument."