Life sentences for New Year killers

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The Independent Online

Four gang members convicted of killing teenagers Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare at a New Year's party in Birmingham were today jailed for life by a judge at Leicester Crown Court.

Four gang members convicted of killing teenagers Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare at a New Year's party in Birmingham were today jailed for life by a judge at Leicester Crown Court.

Mr Justice Goldring recommended that Charlene's half-brother Marcus Ellis, Michael Gregory and Nathan Martin serve a minimum of 35 years and that Rodrigo Simms serve at least 27 years in jail.

College students Charlene, 18, and Letisha, 17, were killed when a semi-automatic sub-machine gun was fired from a slow-moving car outside the Uniseven hair salon in Aston, Birmingham.

Charlene's twin sister, Sophia, their friend Cheryl Shaw, and another party-goer, Leon Harris, were also injured in the shootings, which happened in the early hours of January 2, 2003.

The four defendants - all members of the Burger Bar Boys - were seeking revenge on the rival Johnson Crew when Charlene and Letisha were cut down by rounds fired from a MAC-10 assault weapon.

Ellis, 24, from Devonshire Avenue, Winson Green; Gregory, 23, from Ryland Street, Ladywood, both Birmingham; Martin, 26, from South Road, Smethwick; and Simms, 20, from Whitehouse Drive, also Smethwick, West Midlands; were convicted on Friday after a five-month trial.

Ellis, Gregory and Martin were ordered to serve at least 24 years for attempting to murder Charlene's twin sister, Sophia, their friend, Cheryl Shaw, and another party-goer Leon Harris.

Simms was told he would serve 18 years after his conviction for attempting to murder Sophia and Cheryl.

All the sentences were to run concurrently.

Mr Justice Goldring told Ellis, Gregory and Martin: "The seriousness of these offences of murder was exceptionally high ... Two people were killed. There was a substantial degree of premeditation or planning.

"The aggravating features are clear: this was gang warfare played out on the streets of Birmingham. Lethal weapons were used. The intention was to kill. There was a complete indifference to the lives of others.

"Those who were killed were wholly innocent people. Not a shred of remorse has been exhibited, moreover, and public interest demands the highest possible deterrent.

"No society can permit this sort of behaviour to take place without the gravest retribution."

Before setting the 35 year minimum tariff, the judge said he had considered the offences so serious that he would have imposed whole life terms.

Simms was given a reduced tariff because of his age at the time of the shootings and his lesser involvement in both firing the guns and planning the attack.

Speaking on the steps of the court, Detective Superintendent Dave Mirfield, who led the investigation for West Midlands Police, said the jail terms should be a deterrent.

He told reporters: "Four men will today be starting a total of 132 years in prison.

"The message this sentence sends out is that guns and gangs will not win. Justice will always win and any youngster who sees this today, take it as a wake-up call while you still have a chance."

Letisha's mother, Marcia Shakespeare, added: "We put our faith in the police.

"Me and Bev (Beverley Thomas, mother of Charlene and Sophia) would like to say Charlene and Letisha can rest in peace and justice has been served."

Ellis, 24, from Devonshire Avenue, Winson Green, Birmingham; Greogry, 23, from Ryland Street, Ladywood, Birmingham; Martin, 26, from South Road, Smethwick, West Midlands; and Simms, 20, from Whitehouse Drive, Smethwick, all denied murdering the girls, who were shot dead in the early hours of January 2 2003.

After the trial, detectives and prosecutors hailed the result as a "watershed" in the war against gun violence and so-called "untouchables", who use weapons to instil fear into many of Britain's inner-city communities.

An unprecedented level of special measures were taken to ensure witnesses testified, including voice distortion, using screens, pseudonyms and in the case of one key prosecution witness, total anonymity.

But lawyers for some of the men have already announced they are planning to appeal the convictions, with one solicitor labelling the trial "one of the most unfair in history".

College students Charlene, 18, and Letisha, 17, were killed after going to a party at the Uniseven hair salon, in Aston, Birmingham, with Charlene's twin, Sophia, and their friend Cheryl Shaw.

But they were unwittingly caught in the cross-fire of the long-running rivalry between members of the Burger Bar Boys street gang and the Johnson Crew.

The court heard Martin, known by the street name "23", wanted to avenge the death of his brother, Yohanne, who was shot dead in a BMW car in West Bromwich less than a month beforehand.

The attack was widely blamed on the Johnson Crew, who have been waging a bloody turf war in north Birmingham with the Burger Bar Boys since the mid-1980s.

A fifth defendant and alleged Johnson Crew member, Jermaine Carty, was also alleged to have taunted the Burger Bar Boys at a Solihull nightclub on the night of the shootings.

He was cleared of possessing a firearm and walked free from court.

Mr Justice Goldring told the convicted men they were correctly described by one witness as "urban terrorists" who believed they would not be caught because witnesses would be too frightened to co-operate with police or give evidence.

But even though few did give statements or changed their evidence in the witness box, the men "reckoned without" painstaking mobile phone and cell site analysis which placed them all in and around the scene of the shootings at key times.

Evidence of them using key mobile phones for the purchase of the red Ford Mondeo used in the shootings, near the Uniseven salon and close to the scene where the car was later found burned out, was the "foundation" of their conviction, the judge added.

The men showed little emotion other than bowing their heads as they were led out of the dock to begin their sentences.