Like many other 13-year-old boys, Jo’Renzo Phillips loves watching football and basketball.
He has straight A’s with a 95 percent in math and a long-term goal of becoming an electrician, his attorney, Sarah Haberland said. He recently lost his father.
But on April 18, he pointed and fired a .380 pistol twice at a mother and son. Both shots missed the woman and her boy.
“I just got real mad,” he wrote in a letter that Ms. Haberland read in Lucas County Juvenile Court. “I played with lives and put their lives in danger.”
Tuesday afternoon, the Phillips youth was sentenced to four years in the Ohio Department of Youth Services, two for a gun specification as well as one for felonious assault and one for robbery, sentences that will run consecutively. Ms. Haberland said the youth, a first time offender who felt uneasy in court, apologized for his actions, and asked for forgiveness.
Lucas County Juvenile Court Judge Connie Zemmelman extended the sentence a year beyond the recommendation of the state prosecutor and juvenile probation officer, calling the 13-year-old’s crime “one of the worst cases [she’s] seen,” short of murder.
“The gun situation in this community has to stop,” Judge Zemmelman said. “[Your case is] very scary to me.”
More than a dozen adults and children sat in the benches behind the Phillips youth, many wiping tears. His mother and aunt delivered handwritten notes to the judge, attesting to his character and asking that she keep the child in a facility in Toledo. But Judge Zemmelman said she had no choice, given that she is required to send him to the Department of Youth Services for the gun specification. She recommended him for the Lighthouse Youth Center at Paint Creek, Ohio, three and a half hours from Toledo.
The young teen during court proceedings admitted to the actions on April 18 that led to his sentence:
Not far from Robinson Elementary School, he and his friends encountered a boy on his bike when Jo’Renzo asked for his shoes and cell phone. The boy ran off.
The group then went to the McDonald’s at 3008 Monroe St., where they were asked to leave after causing a disturbance. The Phillips boy began arguing with Reva Kelley, 47, in the restaurant’s parking lot. He then shot at the woman and her son, telling detectives that “she sounded like she was trying to act like his momma,” said Lori Olender, deputy chief of the Lucas County prosecutor’s juvenile division.
Neither was struck. Ms. Olender added that Ms. Kelley, traumatized, has had nightmares of the incident.
Juvenile probation officer Duane Welch said the Phillips boy told him he had no gang affiliation. But one of his two close friends does.
In court, Jo’Renzo said he obtained the pistol by finding it in alley.
After one year, Judge Zemmelman can reconsider the boy’s sentence, as long as he stays out of gangs and pursues his high school diploma, she said.
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