GOSHEN — Jesus Macedo Perez brought a handwritten letter to the court for his sentencing hearing. He slowly unfolded the letter and read the first two paragraphs, apologizing to 16-year-old Braxton Barhams’ family for causing their pain.
The 17-year-old stopped short when he addressed his own family, breaking down.
“I’m sorry for all the stress and worry I’m causing you. I should have been a better son. You didn’t fail me; I failed you and I’m sorry for that,” Macedo-Perez’s attorney read out loud to the court when the teenage boy couldn’t continue.
“I’m sorry I’ve added violence to the community. With that being said I’m ready to accept my punishment to accept full responsibility for what I did.”
Macedo-Perez, 17, pleaded guilty to the charge of murder, admitting to the accusation that he killed Barhams.
Family members, both Macedo-Perez’s and Barhams’, sat in opposite sides of the courtroom. Members from the Elkhart Police Department’s Homicide Unit sat behind Barhams’ family.
Macedo-Perez was sentenced to 65 years in prison, which is the maximum sentence for a murder charge.
The prosecutor’s office accepted Macedo-Perez’s plea, removing a criminal gang enhancement. Had Macedo-Perez gone to trial, the state would have sought to add the enhancement, which would have doubled Macedo-Perez’s sentence if he was found guilty of murder.
Macedo-Perez was arrested June 23, hours after police were dispatched to the area near Benham and Garfield Avenues on reports of a shooting.
Emergency crews arrived to the scene at about 6:45 p.m. June 22, and found Barhams with a gunshot wound. Barhams was pronounced dead at Elkhart General Hospital.
According to the probable cause affidavit for Macedo-Perez’s arrest, witnesses told police they were walking south on Benham Avenue when they saw a gray Impala heading south on Benham Avenue. They said they saw Macedo-Perez in the rear seat of the car, and he waived at them as the car passed. They said they saw three people were in the vehicle at the time.
Macedo-Perez then flashed gang signs to Barhams, who flashed gang signs back at Macedo-Perez, the witnesses told police. The driver of the Impala made a U-turn at the intersection of Garfield and Benham Avenues and drove back toward Barhams.
The witnesses told police Macedo-Perez fired a handgun in their direction. Barhams told the witnesses he was shot before collapsing.
VIOLENCE IN THE COMMUNITY
Shortly after Barhams’ death, the community gathered in different ways by organizing candlelit vigils and rallies against violence.
Since then, the activity has died down, but during Jesus Macedo-Perez’s sentencing hearing the issues facing the community came up again.
“Those are choices that are being made every day in this community and it’s got to stop. It absolutely has got to stop,” Chief Deputy Prosecutor Vicki Becker said during the hearing.
Becker said Macedo-Perez had already been through the juvenile court system before — It was mentioned during the hearing that Macedo-Perez was a member of the Latin Kings since age 14 — but that his situation was perhaps not addressed appropriately.
“We can make an example of Mr. Macedo-Perez, or we can continue doing this one case at a time, when we end up with one body after another, but something has to change,” Becker said.