Standing with his wrists cuffed behind him and facing the spectators sitting in Lucas County Juvenile Court, Dai'Lahntae Jemison wept as he apologized to Robert Brundage's brother for the single punch that ended the well-known community activist's life.
“I never intended to hurt or harm him when I hit him,” the youth said, calling it a “stupid decision” brought about by “hanging out with the wrong people.”
“I'm sorry and I'm hurting inside,” he added, just prior to breaking down. “I'm just so sorry. I don't know how to explain it. I don't know how to explain.”
Just months after turning 16 while incarcerated in the juvenile lockup, Jemison was sentenced yesterday to serve time in the Department of Youth Services up to age 21. The sentence was a result of his admission of guilt to charges of delinquency in connection to murder and aggravated robbery in the July 7 death of Mr. Brundage.
An academic and musician, Mr. Brundage, 66, was attacked about 6:30 p.m. June 22 as he rode his bicycle in the Old West End. He died of complications resulting from blunt force trauma to the head after spending more than two weeks unconscious in Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.
Jemison and his legal guardian, Twanda Harris, hear Dick Brundage, the victim's brother, say that he will know if Jemison's apology is sincere if the teen betters himself.
Authorities said Jemison assaulted the victim by knocking him to the ground so he could rob him of his bicycle. The blow was delivered with such force that Mr. Brundage's jaw was broken, authorities said.
Jemison's attorney, Joanne Rubin, said there was no excuse for the violence of his action, but his intention was to steal Mr. Brundage's bike, not to hurt him. Ms. Rubin said her client regretted his excessive use of force and lived with heavy guilt.
Judge Connie Zemmelman told the teenager yesterday that she believed he was sorry for the loss that he caused. But she added that the court could not overlook that a life was cut short by his actions.
Judge Zemmelman then imposed the sentence of incarceration requested by the prosecutor's office and youth probation department.
“Dr. Brundage worked hard to make this community a better place and he worked hard for children like you …” the judge said. “Your impulsive act was senseless and it caused this death. I realize that you recognize the bad choice you made that day and now you see that bad choices result in consequences.”
Judge Connie Zemmelman ruled against trying Dai'Lahntae Jemison as an adult.
Judge Zemmelman sentenced Jemison to the maximum allowed under juvenile law. The teenager first will be transported to an intake center in Delaware, where he will be assessed and then transferred to one of the department's institutions.
Northwest Ohio has no institutions for youth offenders.
Judge Zemmelman previously had ruled that Jemison was amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system.
After a two-part certification process, the judge decided Sept. 5 to deny a motion by the prosecutor's office to certify him to stand trial as an adult.
Yesterday, the teenager thanked the judge for not sending him “across the street” to adult court.
Although he hung his head as his father spoke his apologies to the Brundage family, Jemison looked at Mr. Brundage's brother, Dick, as the older man spoke of all that his slain brother had achieved.
A graduate of Scott High School and the University of Toledo, Mr. Brundage received a doctorate in biophysics in 1969 from Brandeis University near Boston. He worked as a research scientist and an engineer and had owned a sound-recording company in Massachusetts before returning to his boyhood home in Toledo in 1997 to care for his father.
When Robert Brundage returned to his boyhood home to care for his father in 1997, he became active in the community.
Since returning to Toledo, he had been actively involved with more than 20 organizations on issues ranging from social justice to education to the environment.
Dick Brundage told Jemison that he had been given an opportunity to change his ways and that only by bettering himself will he truly prove that he was sorry for his actions.
He cautioned the teenager that life with other offenders will be difficult and that he will have to work diligently to choose the right path.
Only if the teen is able to become a productive member of society will there be some positive result from his brother's death, he said.
After the sentencing hearing, Mr. Brundage said he intends to keep track of Jemison's progress to ensure that he serves his time. A youth offender can be released early by either the court or the state if it is deemed appropriate.
“If he could further his situation, then maybe it will not be a total loss,” he said.
Members of Jemison's family shed tears as the teenager broke down during his apology. His guardian, Twanda Harris, wrote a letter about the youth's difficult upbringing that was read to the judge by the teen's father, Marcel Huggins. Speaking for himself and Ms. Harris, the teen's father turned to Mr. Brundage and apologized for his son's actions.
“He's taken responsibility for it,” he said of his son after the hearing. “I'm going to be there for him every step of the way.”
Ms. Rubin gave Mr. Brundage a letter written by Jemison soon after he was incarcerated.
It was addressed to Robert Brundage and his family, and Jemison had hoped to give it to the injured man.
But because Robert Brundage never regained consciousness, he was never able to read it, Ms. Rubin said.
Yesterday, she said she hoped it would show his family how sorry Jemison was from the start.
While at his car in the parking lot near juvenile court yesterday, Mr. Brundage read the one-page handwritten letter.
“Hopefully it's a genuine apology. It certainly looks like it,” he said when he had finished. “We'll only know if he is able to make himself a better person.”
Contact Erica Blake at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.