A man convicted of first-degree murder for being the getaway driver in the shooting death of a community and anti-gang activist in South Los Angeles was sentenced Friday to 82 years to life in state prison in a term likely to be considerably longer than that for either of the two gunmen.
Superior Court Judge H. Clay Jacke opted to strike Brandon Dixon’s two prior strikes from 2014 — one for a burglary and one for an attempted burglary — that would have added more prison time, saying that he was considering the role the now-26-year-old defendant had in the July 1, 2018, killing of Garry Dorton and that the defendant’s sentence would “still be substantial.”
The decision will entitle Dixon, who was 22 at the time of the crime, to a youthful offender parole hearing in 25 years that he otherwise wouldn’t receive, attorneys said.
Prosecutors had requested a 125-year-to-life prison sentence for Dixon, who was convicted May 13 of a half-dozen charges, including first-degree murder and attempted murder.
Dixon was charged along with two others — whom prosecutors said were the gunmen — in Dorton’s killing.
Co-defendant Dejone Wright pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced in June to 15 years in state prison, while a teenager who was three weeks shy of his 18th birthday admitted a Juvenile Court petition charging him with murder and was ordered to be sent to the state’s Division of Juvenile Justice for an undetermined period.
Dixon’s attorney, Ludlow Creary II, said he was troubled by the case, arguing that the prosecution “struck deals with the actual murderers” while Dixon’s attempt to resolve the case without going to trial was “met with deaf ears.”
“My client didn’t kill anybody. My client didn’t shoot anybody,” Creary said of the father of two. “He doesn’t have the spirit of a killer. If he did, he would have been holding that gun.”
In statements read in court by Deputy District Attorney Kelly Kraetsch, the victim’s aunt wrote that a host of family and friends continue to celebrate Dorton’s life. One of his children wrote of hoping for justice for him, while another wrote that he will never be there for important family events such as college graduations and weddings.
The judge also said he wanted to hear from the defendant’s two cousins and his grandmother, Gloria Ayers, the latter of whom called him a “good kid” and said he had a “rough time” growing up.
In his opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Louis Morin told jurors that surveillance video showed the vehicle containing Dixon and his two fellow gang members circling the block before returning to the 4500 block of South Van Ness Boulevard, where the two gunmen jumped out and opened fire. Dorton was mortally injured, while another man who was initially on life support survived “by the grace of God,” according to the prosecutor.
Dixon was wearing a GPS tracking device at the time, according to Morin.
Dixon’s attorney countered that Dixon didn’t know what his passengers would jump out of his car with their guns drawn. He had urged jurors to acquit his client, saying it “doesn’t mean he planned it with them.”
Dorton, 48, was a community intervention worker for Soledad Enrichment Action Inc., a nonprofit founded in 1972 by mothers in East Los Angeles who had lost their sons to gang violence, according to the group’s Facebook page. SEA provides services to high-risk individuals, families and gang-affected communities in Southern California.
In a statement posted about Dorton, SEA called him “a wonderful man” who “spent his life fighting to prevent the senseless violence that took his life … He worked with young people in South Los Angeles to help them avoid the kind of life he had at their age — one where violence was the norm, not the exception.”
Dorton often worked with film productions in South Los Angeles, according to the nonprofit, which said he “negotiated with various communities in which the production would take place — which often crossed enemy territories — to ensure the safety of the shoot, but he would also devise ways in which youngsters from the various territories could be persuaded to work together as part of the production.”
“… His death is tragic, but his life was a marvel. His was a story of redemption. He managed to turn his life around in ways that few people — even those with many more resources and privileges than he ever had — could do,” according to the SEA. “Through his strength and perseverance, he saved himself and then he dedicated his life to saving others. His is a life that even as we mourn should be celebrated — always.”
At a news conference at the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street Station in 2018, Eula Hooks said her grandson was killed on her birthday.
“It’s hard for me to talk about it because it was on my birthday,” Hooks said. “I even awaken at night, thinking about my poor baby.”