“I know a million sorries won’t ever bring her back,” Damon Sams, shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit told the family of Ashley McRae today in DC Superior Court. “I never meant to shoot her. I wanted to make sure Ashley got home safe.”
The words moved many of the two dozen people gathered in Judge Gerald Fisher’s courtroom for Sams’ sentencing to tears.
McRae’s family, wearing t-shirts in memory of the 21-year-old they called “Mama,” sobbed through much of Sams’ long statement to them and to the court, then gasped audibly when Sams, 23, turned to Fisher with this plea:
“A million tears and I can’t bring her back. That being said, Judge Fisher, I’m ready for my sentence.”
That sentence, Fisher announced moments later, was 10 years in prison: sixty months for involuntary manslaughter and sixty months for possession of a firearm.
In agreeing to plead guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Sams signed a proffer of evidence stating that he shot McRae once in the head while she was seated in the backseat of a car early in the morning of September 18, 2010.
He said he fired the gun accidentally when his finger touched the trigger. He was attempting to engage the safety on a .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol.
“I don’t call it a murder case,” Sams said at his sentencing. “Ashley passed away due to me putting a gun on safety.”
McRae’s mother and sister addressed the court. Her mother, wearing a memorial t-shirt and tag necklace, appeared to struggle to find words to address to Sams before finally saying:
“I don’t know what made you kill my baby. I want to hate you but in order to move on I have to forgive you. I just want you to know you hurt my family.”
Said McRae’s sister:
“I hate you. I don’t know when I will ever forgive you. You took my baby sister. That was the baby, baby girl. There’s no bringing her back. All we got is pictures.”
But Sams, while begging for forgiveness, told them that their plight and grief can at least be lessened by justice being done.
“There are a lot of cases out here that get unsolved,” Sams said of DC homicides. “I’ve been totally honest. It’s not about me. I was concerned about the family, that’s why I turned myself in.”
“I made a lot of bad choices due to the environment I was in,” he said. “I sit in my cell and stare at the picture of Ashley I have on my wall.”
A press release from the US Attorney’s Office about the case is below.
District Man Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison In September 2010 Slaying in Southeast Washington - Defendant Pled Guilty to Involuntary Manslaughter, Weapons Charges -
WASHINGTON - Damon Sams, 23, was sentenced today to 10 years in prison after earlier pleading guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence in a slaying that took place in September 2010 in Southeast Washington, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced.
Sams, of Washington, D.C., also known as “Milli” and “9-Milli,” pled guilty to the felony charges in May 2011 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. He was sentenced by the Honorable Gerald I. Fisher to five years on the involuntary manslaughter count, and five years on the firearms count, the two sentences to run consecutively.
The government’s evidence indicated that Sams did not intend to shoot the victim, Ashley McRae, or discharge the firearm. According to the government’s evidence, on September 18, 2010, at 3:30 a.m., Sams shot Ms. McRae, 21, once in the forehead while she was in the back seat on the driver’s side of a car parked behind a building in the 2700 block of Bruce Place SE.
At the time of the shooting, Sams was standing in the space created by the open rear passenger door of the car, with a pistol in his hand. By his account, he was attempting to engage the safety on the pistol before getting into the car. He touched the trigger to see if the safety was on – while holding the pistol pointed into the car. A round discharged, killing the victim.
Sams already had fired the pistol that night, shortly before killing McRae, and no reasonable person could have thought it would be safe to touch the trigger with a pistol pointed in the direction of another person. Earlier that night, Sams had fired the pistol into the air out of anger at an incident at a club in Maryland, involving unrelated individuals.
In announcing today’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Machen praised the work of the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch, Mobile Crime Laboratory and Seventh District detectives’ office, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas (Pat) Martin, who investigated and obtained an indictment in the case, Victim Advocate Marcey Rinker, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Friedman, who handled the guilty plea and sentencing.