FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A man who claimed a 16-year-old New Haven boy accidentally shot himself two summers ago – a story investigators never bought – dodged a murder conviction in connection to the killing.
Still, he received a 30-year prison sentence Friday.
Damarion Laster, who was 18 when police and rescue crews arrived at a home in August 2021 to find 16-year-old Bryson L. Patterson Jr. dead inside, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter last month.
As part of a plea agreement with Allen County prosecutors, Laster admitted that he intentionally killed Patterson but acted under sudden heat.
In exchange for Laster’s admission, prosecutors dropped a murder charge filed against him and decided to not pursue a sentencing enhancement that could’ve added 20 years to any time he received since a firearm was used in the commission of the crime.
An Allen Superior Court judge handed down the recommended sentence in the plea agreement.
When officers and medics arrived at the home where Patterson died on Aug. 24, 2021, they were met by Laster kneeling by the front door crying with blood on his hands, according to court documents.
Laster told detectives in multiple interviews that he had been hanging out with Patterson at the home, in the 10600 block of Seiller Road, the day of the shooting. At one point, Laster said in Allen Superior Court documents, Patterson pulled a gun out of a black bag with a single strap while the two were in the living room.
He warned Patterson that “there was one in the head,” meaning a round was chambered and ready to shoot, according to court documents.
Patterson then said there was not a live round chambered and that he would prove it, Laster said in court documents.
That’s when the 16-year-old turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger, Laster said in court documents.
During another interview with detectives, Laster said he was picked up by a woman who lived at the home and took him there. At the home, the two teens were watching a video chat of Patterson’s girlfriend. Patterson became angry when Laster commented on the girl’s attractiveness, Laster said in court documents.
A scuffle ensued, and Patterson grabbed a bag with a gun and told Laster “I’ll pop you,” court documents said.
That’s when Laster warned about the live round and Patterson turned the gun on himself, Laster said in court documents.
“The Defendant stated he was sitting on the little couch in the living room and Bryson was sitting on the big couch and when Bryson shot himself, the Defendant hid the gun in the bedroom and then attempted to render aid to Bryson,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
Laster said in court documents Patterson uttered, “I’m shot.”
Laster also admitted the gun was his but that he and Patterson shared the firearm, according to court documents.
An autopsy conducted a day later began to show Laster’s story did not add up, court documents said.
A pathologist found a graze wound from a bullet on Patterson’s right forearm. This wound matched up with the wound on his chest, meaning the bullet likely grazed Patterson’s arm as he tried to raise it in a defensive position, according to court documents.
The pathologist also found no gunpowder burned into the teen’s chest, which suggested the gun would’ve had to be more than nine inches away at the time of the shooting.
Plus, the pathologist told investigators, the graze wound on the right-handed Patterson’s right arm meant he would’ve been holding the gun with his left hand if Laster’s story were true, court documents said.
When the pathologist placed a projectile rod into Patterson’s chest to track the trajectory of the bullet that killed him, it showed that the bullet could have come from where Laster had been sitting in the living room at the time of the shooting, according to court documents.
The bullet struck Patterson’s heart, right lung and kidney and the pathologist ruled the manner of his death a homicide.
A search of the home immediately after the shooting turned up the gun in a bedroom, just where Laster said he put it before rendering aid to Patterson, court documents said. No ammunition was loaded into the firearm and no ammunition was found in the home, however.
Officers also could not find a spent shell casing.
Investigators asked Laster several times during interviews if he had removed the spent shell casing, but he denied touching or moving anything, according to court documents.
“Your affiant believed that the evidence collected during this investigation supports the Defendant shooting Bryson and then trying to conceal evidence afterward,” an investigator wrote in court documents.
Almost a year after Patterson’s death, prosecutors charged Laster with murder.
As part of his sentence Friday, Laster was given 179 credit for days served in Allen County Jail while his case wound through the legal system and he was also ordered to pay $6,459 in restitution.