Teens sentenced in crime spree that killed federal prosecutor

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Associated Press WriterCOLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Four Columbia teen-agers were sentenced Tuesday to more than 35 years each after pleading guilty to various charges in a crime spree here last August that left one federal prosecutor dead and another one wounded.

Cichey L. Mayo, 18, was sentenced to 47 years after pleading guilty to murder, armed robbery, assault and battery, and conspiracy in the death of Michael Messer, 49, of Morton Grove, Ill. Authorities said Mayo's gun fired the fatal shot.

Willie James Murphy Jr., 17, who also fired at Messer and colleague Richard Gillum Ferguson, was sentenced to 43 years for murder, armed robbery and conspiracy. Ferguson, who was wounded in the arm as he ran from the robbers, did not attend the sentencing.

Both men from the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago were in Columbia for a training seminar at the University of South Carolina's National Advocacy Center.

Circuit Judge Henry McKellar also sentenced Bryan Murray, 18, and Abram Braveboy, 19, to 35 years each for armed robbery, attempted armed robbery and conspiracy. The two will have to complete their 30-year sentences on armed robbery before serving at least a third of the five-year sentences for conspiracy.

McKellar gave Murray and Braveboy the maximum although neither carried a gun on Aug. 20 when the four teens went on a rampage, robbing people at gunpoint -- some just outside their homes. McKellar said the tough sentences would send a message that armed robbery will not be tolerated.

Mayo and Murphy could have been sentenced to life in prison without parole, but McKellar suggested that imposing the maximum could have a chilling effect on getting other defendants to plead guilty.

Messer's widow, Susan, told the court of the effect of losing her husband and best friend. "Since that night, I have become the sole support of my three children," she told McKellar.

To the four defendants, she said, "You have caused an endless chain of pain and you have to remember that for the rest of your lives."

More than 100 people filled the courtroom, including many who were there to ask for mercy for the defendants. "He's a lost child who got lost in the system," teaching assistant Tammy Nitz said of Murphy, who was 2 months old when his mother abandoned him.

Mayo was described as emotionally disabled and unable to control his impulses. Murray and Braveboy were painted as good boys who made a mistake.

"But for one short period in August, he's always done the right thing," attorney Michael McMullen said of his client, Braveboy. "He should be in college now."

Braveboy apologized to Messer's family and other victims. "I come to you today a new creature," he said. "I never was raised this way. I made a mistake.

"There's no excuse for what was done. I'm deeply sorry."

About 40 people in the courtroom stood to show their support for Murray, who also was described as a straight-arrow who made a poor choice.

"I apologize for what I have done," Murray said. "I hope that one day I can end this chapter of my life and move on."

However, prosecutors told a different story -- one of four men who started their crime spree with a murder, took a break for dinner, then continued on a quest to "get paid."

"After they had shot and killed someone, they didn't even take the night off," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who helped crack the case while chasing a suspect in an unrelated case.

The chase caused a series of wrecks, one of which involved Braveboy, who was driving his mother's car to work the day after the shooting. His mother later called the sheriff's office to complain about damage to her car and investigators linked the gray Volvo involved in the accident to some of the robberies. Braveboy took the car to the sheriff's office and a search of the vehicle found items related to the crimes. Braveboy cooperated with investigators, and the three other teens were soon in custody.

Lott described the four as "cold-blooded killers" who had a "total disregard for human life." The sheriff said he was pleased with the sentences.

The teens will have to serve every day of their sentences then 85 percent of the additional five years for conspiracy, Lott said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: