Carmen Gray was crying again, not unusually for most of the more than 900 days since Marion Gavins Jr. shot and killed her 18-year-old son Curtis Gray on April 13, 2019 outside a smoke shop in Palm Coast.
This morning Carmen Gray was in court. She was crying even before the hearing began because her son’s killer was in the courtroom, a mere few feet to her right. Gavins sat at the defendant’s table next to his attorney. It was the first time she had to be in the same room with him. The detectives who investigated the case and arrested Gavins were sitting a few benches behind Gray. Five family members and friends of Gavins’s sat on two benches behind him.
Gavins was there to plead guilty to the murder, to three other charges he ran up at the county jail after assaulting a corrections deputy there, and to be sentenced, which he was: after Gavins repeatedly apologized to Gray for the murder in a brief, unemotional statement, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins sentenced him to 45 years in prison on all the charges: 40 years for the murder, five years for each of the three additional charges.
Those three five-year sentences are to run concurrently with each other, but consecutively with the 40-year sentence, resulting in the total of 45 years. Gavins gets credit for the 923 days he has already served in jail. He’s been at the Flagler County jail since May 3, but was incarcerated in a juvenile justice jail for a few days before that, until he turned 18.
The plea deal includes a review of Gray’s sentence after 25 years. The sentence is not day for day. In other words he will be eligible for so-called “gain time,” or release after serving 85 percent of his sentence. That, in addition to the two and a half years he’s already served, means that he could theoretically get out of prison after serving just under 36 more years from today, when he would be 56–young enough to still have a life beyond prison. The sentence review after 25 years may yield an even more beneficial outcome to him. He had faced life in prison had he gone to trial and been found guilty and convicted, but even then, since he committed the murder while still a juvenile, he would have been eligible for a sentence review after 25 years.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Dunton, and investigated by Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives Jorge Fuentes and Mark Moy in lead or supervisory roles.
Gavins was 17 when he shot Gray once in the abdomen as Gray was approaching the SUV Gavins was in. Gavins and Gray had run into each other in the area of the smoke shop on Belle Terre Parkway near the Circle K by Palm Coast Parkway that night. Gavins had been in the smoke shop with his friend Teresa Slagado. Gray walked in, saw them, and quickly walked out, according to detectives’ reconstructed account. Gray rejoined his friends and talked about Gavins posting “disrespectful things on social media.” Gray wanted to confront Gavins about them. He couldn’t find him back in the shop.
By then Gavins and his friend were back in the SUV. Gavins was in the back seat as the SUV was pulling out. Gray approached. Gavins told the driver to stop, and Slagado according to witnesses in the car (there were several occupants) asked Gray if he wanted smoke–slang for getting shot. Gray kept approaching. Gavins pulled out a gun and shot him once, then pointed the gun at the driver and told him to drive. Gray collapsed, but was conscious on his way to the hospital in Daytona Beach, telling a deputy a light-skinned male with a neck tattoo had shot him.
The murder shook the school community: Gray had been a prominent athlete at both Matanzas and Flagler Palm Coast High School, and at the time was on the track team at FPC.
“By all accounts,” Jim Tager, the superintendent at the time, said in the wake of the shooting, “this was a young man who was taking great strides to improve himself and prepare for an opportunity for education past his high school education. He was working hard both in the classroom and in the training room. His coaches both at Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School spoke of a teenager who had nothing but respect for the coaching and mentorship that he was offered.”
“My child died before me and I’m having to take this torch he left behind,” his mother Carmen told Perkins today as she sat in the witness box, her sister holding one hand, Gray reaching for tissue the judge had handed her with the other. “Death yields a different kind of pain that’s unending, that will never go away. The connection between my son and I was profound.” She had prepared a long statement. (See it in full below.) But she spoke at length, hardly referring to it, the experience of living without her son having indelibly imprinted itself in her–and altered her in innumerable ways, including illnesses and ailments she’d never dealt with before. She listed them for the judge.
The loss, she said, is undescribable aside from a metaphor she’s used to try to explain what it’s been like. She said it feels like being lost at sea, out of sight of land, without any rescue in sight, without any end to the drift.
“His reach wasn’t just in the high school arena,” Gray’s mother said. “He was a young readers’ book club mentor, so that means the elementary schools were impacted by his death. He was also a Little League coach for Mad Dogs. That meant those children were impacted by his death.” He was involved in food drives, started a peer-to-peer support group for young men who had lost a father figure, who contemplated suicide, or had other difficulties. “He also was an amazing public speaker,” Gray said, before recalling the “monumental win” his track team at FPC earned in a competition after dedicating its event to Gray. She recalled his interest in penny stocks and his developing interest in finance. “Somehow or another this young man was able to cram into 18 years a lifetime of service that some men will live to 60, 70, 80 and will not have met half of those accomplishments.”
“I’m going to make you proud,” Gray had told his mother the very day he was killed, she said. “And he has. He has.”
Gavins had dropped out of school after eighth grade and already had a long juvenile record before April 13, 2019. The immeasurable loss he caused overshadows the cold-blooded manner of the killing and its echo only last June at the Flagler County jail, where Gavins and another inmate, Carlos Dupree, attacked corrections deputy Edward C. Wallace Jr. when the deputy was searching the inmates’ Koran for contraband. They struck Wallace at least 25 times, according to their arrest reports at the time. He had to be hospitalized. Wallace testified today.
“I have been in law enforcement for 14, going on 15 years, I started off in Chicago, and worked there and seen some bad things,” Wallace said, speaking by zoom. “But what sticks out to me is Mr. Gavin. And I’ve had the opportunity to work in Flagler County Sheriff’s, or at the county jail for a little under a year now. And I’ve witnessed Gavins’s defiance firsthand all throughout my workings there. And also witnessed his violent acts firsthand. The only thing that I can say is that, to me, Gavins does not show any signs of remorse or even understanding of anything that he has done to the many lives that he’s affected. I hope this court takes that into consideration.”
It appears that the additional five years to be served consecutively, rather than concurrently with the sentence for murder, is the court’s way of giving weight to the gravity of that assault, and to Walace’s statement.
Gavins spoke immediately after the deputy. He remained at the defendant’s table. He lowered his mask and spoke in a deadpan. He did not sound insincere. But he was unemotional, as if perhaps disassociated from the gravity of what he’s done, or what he faces. He did not address Wallace’s statement or the jail incident, addressing only Carmen Gray, without looking at her: “I can only imagine what it’s like for a mother whose child,” he said. “Nobody should ever have to bury her child. And I apologize for my ignorance and arrogance. I was ingrained with the doctrine of willingness and did not know how my actions affected you. And especially my own community, my own people. mount community among people. [Here he spoke an inaudible word.] My circumstances, the way I grew up, are different. And maybe if I knew better, I would have done better. No excuse for my actions. I do deeply apologize. I can live without you saying you forgive me, but what I can’t live with is knowing that you don’t find inner peace, because losing someone that close to you–my mom only has one son, too. And me going away has affected her, so I can only imagine what it’s like to lose a son. I’m still living and my mom is going through a lot. And to never be able to wake up and see your son again, to never tell you to be great, it’s a lot of stuff, so I am deeply sorry, and I hope you can forgive me, eventually.”
There were tears on both sides of the courtroom.
[This is a developing story. More soon.]