Life Sentence For BK Teen Highlights Criminal Justice Disparities | News One
Marcel Dockery, 19, of New York City, was sentenced to 19 years to life on Tuesday for an arson fire he said stemmed from boredom, WABC reports. His actions led to responding Officer Dennis Guerra’s death.
On April 6, 2014, Dockery set fire to a mattress in his Coney Island, Brooklyn apartment while he waited for family who lived in the building. He was 16 at the time.
Guerra and his partner, Rosa Rodriguez, were overcome with smoke inhalation as they approached the blaze. Guerra later died from complications in the hospital.
Dockery originally faced 25 years to life. He was initially formally charged with arson, assault, and reckless endangerment. When Guerra died, prosecutors also charged him with murder.
Prosecutors painted Dockery as a troubled teen who enjoyed starting fires. They say he showed little-to-no remorse for his actions, but the jury concluded that Dockery did not set the fire intending to kill Guerra.
Guerra’s family agrees that his death was an accident, but say they feel vindicated by Dockery’s sentence.
In court on Tuesday, family and friends of Guerra questioned Dockery’s mindset, grappling with the fact that their loved one wouldn’t be coming back. Guerra was a father to four children. His oldest son Jason submitted a statement in court:
“Two weeks ago I graduated high school my father was not there. This weekend is Father’s Day, another reminder of what I have loss.”
It is a tragic event to say the least.
Dockery’s sentencing comes weeks after Stanford student Brock Turner received a short six-month sentence for raping an unconscious woman in 2015.
Presiding Judge Aaron Persky concluded that Turner deserved a second chance and that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact” on him. “I think he will not be a danger to others,” Persky later said.
Yes, Turner and Dockery committed completely different crimes, but it speaks to the disparities between Blacks and Whites in terms of sentencing.
Brian Banks, a 30-year-old former California high school football star, was falsely accused of rape in 2002 when he was 16 and tried as an adult. He was released after serving five years in prison. In 2012, his conviction was overturned. Banks blasted Judge Persky for Turner’s ruling, telling the New York Daily News that White privilege was a huge factor in the case:
“It seems like the judge based his decision on lifestyle. He’s lived such a good life and has never experienced anything serious in his life that would prepare him for prison,” Banks told the Daily News. “He was sheltered so much he wouldn’t be able to survive prison. What about the kid who has nothing, he struggles to eat, struggles to get a fair education? What about the kid who has no choice who he is born to and has drug-addicted parents or a non-parent household? Where is the consideration for them when they commit a crime?”
The Sentencing Project reports that even though African-American account for only 13 percent of the population, Blacks comprise 39 percent of arrests for violent crimes (49 percent for murder and non-negligent manslaughter).
The report says:
“Once arrested, people of color are also likely to be charged more harshly than whites; once charged, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences – all after accounting for relevant legal differences such as crime severity and criminal history.”