GRAND RAPIDS (AP) – A former western Michigan high school football star was sentenced Monday to 30 to 60 years in prison for the accidental killing of an 8-year-old Grand Rapids girl during a revenge attack in 1993.
Robert Gaines was convicted of second-degree murder last month on the 18th anniversary of Lativia Johnson’s death. Authorities said he fired a gun into the girl’s home. Gaines’ accomplice said they shot at the house in retaliation for a robbery and assault but it was the wrong address.
Lativia was going to get a glass of milk when someone fired a shotgun through a bathroom window. She was hit in the head, police said.
Just a year earlier, in 1992, Gaines was homecoming king at East Kentwood High School and a standout player on the school’s football team.
Investigators looking into the cold case identified Gaines and Brown after gathering evidence from witnesses and recorded conversations from at least one of the men.
Before Kent County Circuit Judge James Redford issued the sentence Monday, Monte Johnson, Lativia’s older brother, spoke out against Gaines and his alleged accomplice, Bobby Brown, who was sentenced earlier in the killing.
“You killed my mama’s special child,” Johnson said. “You cowards not only killed my sister, you killed my family.”
In court, Gaines, 37, said he regretted not cooperating with investigators early in the investigation but said he wasn’t the shooter.
“At the same time, I had nothing to do with this,” Gaines said.
According to witnesses, Gaines acted on behalf of Brown, who said he had been assaulted and robbed outside a convenience store near the girl’s home.
Brown pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified at Gaines’ trial. Brown said he waited in a car while Gaines went to the house with a gun. Brown said Gaines returned a few minutes later, saying he had shot someone.
Brown was sentenced to 23 to 50 years in prison.
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