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Zaire Roberts, 17, Gets 7 Years in Prison in Shooting of Phillip Haire in Palm Coast Last Summer

| August 23, 2016

zaire roberts sentencing

Zaire Roberts prepares for his sentencing hearing this afternoon, with his attorney, Kurt Teifke. (© FlaglerLive)

It had started with trash talk between Zaire Roberts and Phillip Haire. Roberts was 16. Haire was 18. The trash talk escalated on social media. There was taunting. There were Twitter insults. Then there was a challenge to fight, and the two Palm Coast residents did just that 13 months ago on Lewisdale Lane, meeting among a group of people not far from Haire’s house.

Haire and Roberts fought. Haire, a former football player at Matanzas High School, knocked out Roberts. Roberts came to, got up, went to his car, picked up a gun, shot Haire twice in the abdomen, left him for dead in the street and fled—all the way to Ohio, then Atlanta. He wouldn’t turn himself in until a month and a half later as U.S. Marshals were closing in.

Roberts, now 17, has been in juvenile detention since. He pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a firearm. Today he was in Flagler County Circuit Court for his sentencing by Judge Matthew Foxman. Haire was there too, in his wheelchair, as were members of Haire’s family and Roberts’s family. Christy Opsahl, the assistant state attorney, had described the shooting as “the most reckless, dangerous and senseless act of violence there could be.”

“There were numerous other children that were out there, juveniles that were watching this fight,” Opsahl said. “And he put everyone of them at risk, not to mention any mother walking to her mailbox walking in that neighborhood, or any person pulling in their driveway, any child sitting in their living room watching cartoons could have easily been hit by a stray bullet from Mr. Roberts, in a completely reckless, dangerous and senseless way.”

“There’s no purpose to the events that are driving us here today. And we have wonderful human beings in this room who are dragged here to deal with the human misery that’s been created by a senseless act.”

Though Roberts was eligible for the sort of youthful offender sentence that would have him at worst released by the time he was 21, she asked for 25 years in prison, because the sort of plea he tendered also made him potentially eligible for up to 30 years in prison.

Foxman asked Haire what he thought.

“I don’t think he should get 25 years,” Haire said.

“What do you think should happen?” the judge asked him.

“I don’t know. I don’t think he should get 25 years.” At the beginning of the hearing, Haire had said, as he was pulling up near a bench and loud enough that the judge had to tell him to be quiet, that Roberts was innocent. Now he spoke under his breath as the judge asked him questions, low enough that much of what he said was difficult to understand. “I know we both was young, so I don’t feel he should do 25,” he told the judge before suggesting that the roles could have easily been reversed: “I feel like it could have been on each side of it.”

The judge also heard from Haire’s father, who described the weeks of paralysis his son went through and the difficulties of his recovery—weeks in intensive car, his lower extremities paralyzed, weeks in rehab– the pressures it placed on the family (Haire is one of six children).

The judge also heard from Roberts’s mother, grandmother and a friend of his mother who had mentored and counseled Roberts in a youth program at the NAACP. They all described Roberts as a leader, a loving boy, a young man with a promising future who, one of the women said, had hit “a bump in the road,” words that immediately prompted a rebuke in tone, if not in words, from Foxman: “it’s a big bump, though,”  the judge said.

phillip haire

Phillip Haire in court today. (© FlaglerLive)

“It’s a huge bump, it’s a ridiculous bump, sometimes as parents we try to do what we do but sometimes when you have outside influences you get a different result sometimes, you know, unfortunately,” Roseanne Mays, who had mentored Roberts at the NAACP and is a close friend of his mother’s, said. “That’s not the kind of young man he is.”

The women each in turn asked for leniency, then Roberts himself spoke, apologizing to Haire and his family, taking responsibility,

Kurt Teifke, Roberts’s attorney, read from a recent Supreme Court opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy—the January decision that referred to excessive sentences “for children whose crimes reflect transient immaturity,” and underlined the psychological insights of that decision into the less-formed brains and judgments of juveniles who carry out seemingly adult acts without gauging the consequences as adults.

Roberts wanted the last word and got it, reading from a prepared statement—the sort of rhetorically polished statement few 17-year-olds can pull off on their own—for just over two minutes, just after his attorney told him to read it. “First I would like to sincerely apologize to the victim, my family and to you. I’m truly sorry for my actions,” he said, accepting that he had affected families “in drastic ways” and taking responsibility for his actions. He alluded to what his mother and grandmother had spoken of, the abuse he suffered from his father for five years, psychological and physical, and the lack of parenting he suffered when he was with him in Ohio, until his return to his mother in Palm Coast not long before the shooting. He hung out with the wrong crowd, he said. But he’s tried to mend his ways since his incarceration: he wants to be an aeronautical engineer. “Please give me another chance,” he told the judge.

Then Foxman spoke.

Judge Matthew Foxman. (© FlaglerLive)

Judge Matthew Foxman. (© FlaglerLive)

“These are the types of moment where to be quite honest with you I don’t really enjoy my job. I really don’t. Everyone in the room needs to prepare themselves for disappointment for what I’m about to do. You know, one of the things that I’ve had to deal with in my entire career has for whatever reason gravitated towards violent offenses. It just continues to be the same, year after year, of senselessness. There’s no purpose to the events that are driving us here today. And we have wonderful human beings in this room who are dragged here to deal with the human misery that’s been created by a senseless act. And I’m so sorry for that. And I would share with you, Mr. Haire, I appreciate you being respectful in what you’ve said, and I heard you. But at the same time I can’t have violence out there in a way that could endanger innocent civilians, even if it was just two guys kind of working it out, if you know what I mean. That being said, I can’t throw away a human being. And Mr. Roberts you have a life worth leading. But at the same time you got this close to killing somebody, and I don’t know what you did to him for a lifetime, but I’m not going to treat you as a youthful offender or a juvenile.”

Foxman said the state had “every right to ask for the 25, but I’m not going to do it,” he said.

He sentenced Zaire Roberts to seven years in prison. He won’t likely serve that long: he’ll get credit for time served, and he may be released after serving 85 percent of his sentence, so he could end up in prison less than five years. He could be out when he’s around 22.

“This is enough for you to get out while you’re young and be the human being that we’re proud of, from your family’s side. But I can’t go lower,” Foxman said. “Folks, please understand, I don’t want to go higher, because I want Mr. Roberts to be somebody that we’re proud of later. So that’s the number. Make it work. Don’t let your family down. Continue to improve yourself.”


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18 Responses for “Zaire Roberts, 17, Gets 7 Years in Prison in Shooting of Phillip Haire in Palm Coast Last Summer”

  1. Disgusted says:

    Wow! Only 7 years? What a great judicial system. In 8 years this idiot will do it again, get shot by a deputy and Flagler county will be headline news cause of another riot.

  2. Tired of it says:

    If he was such a good and upstanding young man why did he have a gun in his car? The sentence is to short. He needed to get more time because he is just another thug and will only be worse when he gets out.

  3. Dazed and Confused. says:

    Palm Compton for the crime capital of the world.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I thought it was 20 or life…what is up with this low sentence? Next time this guy get out and commits a crime it could be murder!

  5. footballen says:

    It has to be really tough to make a call like that when the life you are dealing with is so young. I really hope he heard the judge, I hope someone recorded that and he plays it over and over during his sentence to remind himself that he was very very close to getting 25 years and he easily could have killed Harris. Even if Harris is a piece of garbage himself.

  6. Bc. says:

    What happened to 10-20-life with a firearm crime he should have got at lest 10years

  7. ryan says:

    He should’ve been charged with illegal possession of a firearm too. We claim that there is a gun problem, when it really is a people problem and a refusal to throw the book at people that are in possession of illegal firearms.

  8. real talk says:

    he didn’t kill anyone, hes a byproduct of a culture of guns and hes seventeen. excellent judgement.

  9. Born and Raised Here says:

    Judge Foxman had a difficult ruling in this case, and he made the correct decision to bring justice to both parties. The victim was not a Saint, either. When will these Thugs ever learn.

  10. Eve torres says:

    Hang in there duce baby you was a good friend to my bro and family youll be out soon hope to see you soon
    These people dont even know untill there put in your shoes or one of there family members

  11. Rondo says:

    Many of you can say these outrageous comments because neither of you know the two parties which this accident occurred I was a senior when Haire dream was only to play football I knew Zaire when he first came to Palm Coast and all he wanted was to have real friends and go to school, the decision Zaire a.k.a Duce made it was not acceptable in any way but we all have our ways of acting out in anger many kids grow up without a father and this is one of those what to talk about about somebody you don’t know it’s for you to cast the first stone, for gods Sake we live in Palm Coast if you disagree with the judicial system maybe you should do something about the youth in Palm Coast instead of talking about about someoneelse kids, maybe when you have your own you will understand that no matter how you raise them they still have a decision to make on their own. We live in a time where we don’t need cridicts but we need mentors, if you can’t step up and do anything about it then don’t say anything at all.

  12. Hmmm says:

    He could’ve got more with a drug charge!!! He’s officially the luckiest person on earth.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I understand that people who care about this young man want to see him get the help he needs. But getting the help he needed could have occurred without the help of a “gun.” Where were you all then?

  14. Nel says:

    The only thing missing in this artcicle and stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
    “He was just turning his life around” or ” he was an aspiring rapper”.

  15. Hmmmmm says:

    Angel they don’t even know ! Bra gone be straight we already know. Bra ain’t been callin me so Ima have to put money on his books ! But ya already know ! #FREEDUCE AN FOXMAN ! RESPECT WITH THE DECISION YOU MADE

  16. Notbuyingit says:

    Amen Rondo, amen! You are speaking the truth!

  17. captain obvious says:

    these are both TERIFFIC young men. The problem in this case falls clearly on TWITTER, which was the social media site they both used to taunt each other to begin with.

  18. Concerned Cmitizen says:


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