FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Normally at a sentencing, family and friends of the victim will speak about their loved one and often beg for harsh punishment.

Sometimes they will even forgive the one who took their loved one away from them.

It was different Friday at the sentencing for 22-year-old Jamarion Thomas.

Nearly two years ago, a bullet fired from Thomas’s rifle pierced the wall of Building 7B at the Villages of Hanna during a shootout with as of yet unidentified and uncharged gunmen. That bullet killed 29-year-old Candiace Lay, who had been trying to take cover inside her home with her boyfriend.

No one spoke up for the victim, although a family member was there.

Tilonda Thomas, mother of Jamarion Thomas, said her son’s conviction is unjust and she wants the gunmen found and charged in the May 22, 2021 shootout at Villages of Hanna.

But two people spoke up for Thomas.

His mother, Tilonda Thomas, and his aunt suffered serious injuries from gunshot wounds during the gun battle in which Thomas fired 70 rounds from his rifle to answer a rain of bullets from 9mm and 45mm caliber handguns wielded by those who fired at him.

Thomas himself was slightly wounded.

Thomas and his defense attorney, Robert Scremin, said Thomas’s 70 shots were fired in response to the attack and that he acted in self defense.

But the jury didn’t see it that way. In late February, Thomas was found guilty of murder, reckless homicide, two counts of criminal recklessness and using a firearm in the commission of an offense.

Friday, Thomas was sentenced to 79 years: 55 years for the murder and reckless homicide counts combined and then three years on one criminal reckless count and one year on the other criminal reckless count.

The using a firearm in a crime charge added another 20 years.

Allen Superior Court Judge David Zent listened to the argument for mitigating and aggravating factors. He ultimately decided to make the sentences consecutively, which means they are served one after the next, likely putting Thomas in an Indiana prison for the rest of his life.

Thomas asked that murder charge be vacated, which drew an incredulous response from Zent. Zent then explained that once a jury convicts, a judge can’t overturn the verdict.

“You asked me to vacate the murder charge?” Zent asked. “The jury convicted you of murder.”

During the trial, Thomas’ mother, who still walks with a cane due to her injuries, had expressed concern that the jury was all-white.

Jamarion Thomas, now, 22, was protecting his family when he shot off his rifle, his attorney said. Friday he was sentenced to 79 years in prison.

That still bothered her as she asked Zent for mercy Friday. She held to her argument that it was injustice to convict her son when the shooters were still out there without having to answer for their crimes.

Tilonda Thomas and her family were living in Building 2B across from 7B when words were exchanged between the gunmen and the family that evening.

As Tilonda Thomas pulled her family inside, the gunmen shot indiscriminately after Jamarion fired a warning shot not caught on camera. He was captured on video exiting 2B and firing repeatedly after the attack.

“Justice needs to be served righteously right and if nobody’s going to stand, I’m going to stand. I’m here breathing and ticking for a reason and I’m going to stand,” Thomas’ mother said.

She invited others to come stand with her to fight local prejudice.

“It’s unjust because of the kangaroo jury and all that. My son has no criminal history,” she said.

Jamarion’s grandmother, Joyce Coats, also spoke before the sentencing, reiterating what many family members said during the February trial.

“He’s always been the least likely to get in trouble,” said Coats. “It’s hard to imagine him in this situation, passive person that he is. I’m asking for some mercy to do what you can.”

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille brought up Jamarion’s juvenile history, but said it wasn’t terrible. Although it appeared he didn’t show remorse right after the shooting death of Lay, he did write letters to express that he was sorry.

Thomas himself was so soft spoken during the sentencing hearing it was difficult to hear him in the courtroom. He said he was sorry to the victim and the family.

Scremin said he’d hoped for a milder sentence.

“I would have liked to see some departures, slightly lower for mitigating circumstances, but I am pleased that the judge didn’t add any aggravating circumstances,” Scremin said. “So, it was basically the recommended average sentence on all of the counts.

“Obviously (I’m) still disappointed with the jury verdict and Mr. Thomas will be appealing that,” Scremin continued. “But I am pleased that the judge did not depart upward and find aggravators above the recommended sentence.”