26-year-old sentenced in murder, assault case | News, Sports, Jobs

YOUNGSTOWN — Before Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court sentenced Lavontae E. Knight, 26, to life in prison with parole eligibility after 58 years Tuesday, he had to hear arguments on whether to grant Knight a new trial.

A jury found Knight guilty of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder and several other offenses in the Dec. 30, 2019, shooting death of Trevice Harris and wounding of his girlfriend, Quanisha Bosworth, in a car on Youngstown’s South Side.

Judge Durkin heard oral arguments from the defense and prosecution and denied the motion for a new trial, rejecting the idea by defense attorney David Betras that a juror tainted the panel’s verdict by reporting her fears to the other jurors that she had been followed home one evening from the courthouse. She said the incident happened prior to the jury reaching its verdict in the case.

In a motion filed Sept. 6, Betras stated that the juror told fellow jurors she thought individuals associated with Knight had followed her car home. The conversation among her and the other jurors lasted a minute or two, the filing stated.

But in ruling against the motion, the judge said he had individually questioned all 12 jurors and was satisfied that they were being honest in saying they decided Knight’s guilt based on the evidence and not on the fears the juror raised about being followed.

The judge said the sheriff’s office and Youngstown Police Department investigated the matter, and it showed that two people attending the trial “just happened to follow the juror the same way home for a period of time.”

When that issue was complete, the parties moved on to sentencing, starting with Jennifer McLaughlin, assistant county prosecutor, who asked the judge to sentence Knight to life in prison without possibility of parole, saying Knight, of Ferndale Avenue, “lured” Harris and Bosworth to a home on Ferndale even though Harris was a friend of Knight’s brother, and Knight barely knew Bosworth.

“He victimizes without discrimination,” McLaughlin said of Knight. “It doesn’t matter if he is your friend. It doesn’t matter if you are almost a stranger. The defendant showed no regard for any of that. He is a danger to the public. He is a danger to anyone he encounters in the public. There is no motive that was ever established for these crimes.”

She said Knight robbed Harris and Bosworth at a home on the populated South Side Street of Ferndale Avenue, then took them to a lightly populated area at Erie Street and Earle Avenue, also on the South Side.

“It’s sort of a secluded spot yet within the city. No one to see and obviously no one heard because no one called police,” McLaughlin said. “And later, he shoots Trevice Harris execution style right in the head, killed him.” Then Bosworth was shot multiple times but jumped across to the driver’s seat and drove away with Harris, McLaughlin said.

Knight was convicted as a juvenile of a felony robbery, and as an adult he was convicted of cocaine and heroin possession charges.

Betras told the judge he feels the jury in this case “got it wrong,” adding that “My client insists to this day that he is innocent.”

Knight spoke to the judge, saying, “My lawyer didn’t defend me properly” because witnesses who had relevant things to say were not allowed to testify.

During the trial, Bosworth, 35, testified that she had seen Harris, 37, talking to Knight at two funerals in the weeks before she was shot and Harris, was killed. She said she saw Knight “clearly,” and had also seen Knight at a barber shop and and at a house prior to the shootings.

And she identified Knight, who she knew as “Slim,” as the person who shot them when she called 911 that night and identified Knight as the person who shot them during her testimony Tuesday. She pointed to Knight in the courtroom.

The recording of her 911 call was played for the jury. It was difficult to hear most of what she said because of her emotional state, but when the call taker asked who shot her and her boyfriend, she said “Slim.”

“As you sit here today, is there any doubt in your mind that it was Slim?” McLaughlin asked her of who shot them.

“No,” Bosworth said.

When the judge announced the sentence, he said one of the things he heard during the trial that impacted him was the 911 call.

“That is something that is inherently reliable because of the timing,” he said. During the call, as she is screaming, she mentions Knight’s nickname, “Slim,” the judge noted. He said he is “confident in the verdicts” that the jury returned.

He sentenced Knight to 30 years to life for the aggravated murder of Harris and a three-year gun specification. He sentenced Knight to 11 years for the attempted aggravated murder of Bosworth and a three-year gun specification to be served one after the other and another 11 years for aggravated robbery.

Knight gets credit for about 3 1/2 years in the Mahoning County jail awaiting trial.

Before the hearing was over, Knight spoke again, saying “It don’t matter. I’m going to give it all back. I didn’t do this.”

Knight is also awaiting trial on similar charges — also in front of Judge Durkin — in the Oct. 25, 2018, killing of Josh Donatelli, 26, at Donatelli’s home on Imperial Street on the West Side — two months before the Harris killing. That case has no trial date set.

When McLaughlin was asked whether prosecutors plan to try Knight in that case, she said it is too soon to say.

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