Before delivering their sentences, Judge Robert Morin said that on the night of Michael Jones’ tragic death, evidence showed that Bernard Fleming “participated in a dangerous act,” while Joseph Peoples’ “most serious” crime was tampering with evidence.
In July, Fleming was convicted of second-degree murder, along with six related charges, in connection with Jones’ death. Peoples was acquitted of murder in the same trial, but convicted of carrying a pistol outside the home and tampering with evidence.
Police found Jones at approximately 10:38 p.m. with a gunshot wound to the head in the 1700 block of 7th Street Northwest on July 7, 2012.
On Friday, Judge Morin sentenced Fleming to a total of 35 years in prison, including 20 years for the charge of second-degree murder in the case. Peoples was sentenced to 12 months in prison for each of his charges, though the sentences will run concurrently.
Although a federal judge recently declared the city’s ban on handguns outside the home to be unconstitutional, Judge Morin allowed charges of carrying a pistol outside of the home to stand. Currently, a 90-day stay has halted any changes to the current law.
At trial, prosecutors argued that the Jones brothers wanted to talk with Fleming and Peoples about a fight from earlier that day, but instead, Fleming and Peoples ambushed the men.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn Rakoczy called the dispute between the Jones brothers and Fleming “petty” in court Friday and argued the dispute began and ended with Fleming.
“Fleming followed Jones’ brother Maurice to his home and told him ‘we got that hot stuff for you,’” Rakoczy said. “Then he went to a balcony and fired from above.”
Fleming fired at least 11 rounds that night, Rakoczy said, adding, “It was amazing there wasn’t more lives lost.”
Rakoczy also argued that Peoples was with Fleming the “whole way” and that he led the victims to the scene while knowing Fleming was armed on the balcony. Later, Peoples attempted to cover up the murder by hiding the weapons, Rakoczy said.
Fleming’s defense attorney Craig Moore argued that it was Michael Jones who fired the first shot.
“The facts are it was an urban gun battle and Mr. Fleming wasn’t the only one firing,” Moore said. “It’s a terrible waste of life, but no one knows who fired that fatal shot.”
Addressing the court, Fleming recognized Jones’ death, but he insisted he was innocent. “I maintain my innocence, but I’m sorry for the family’s loss,” Fleming said.
Peoples’ defense attorney Jason Downs focused on his client’s potential and support from the community before asking for a probationary sentence.
“Mr. Peoples is a high school graduate and has the support of his family and community,” Downs said. “That is exceptional considering his circumstances. It’s a sign this young man has potential.”
Before his sentence, Peoples said, “I want to apologize to the Jones family.”
Outside of the court room, Peoples’ mother, Angela Bryant, said she agreed with the sentence and she believed in her son the entire time.
“I thought the outcome was great,” Bryant said. “I knew my child was innocent.”
Prosecutors said the Jones’ family asked them to speak on their behalf, since the case has been hard on them.
“Michael Jones is no longer with us and his family will feel that for the rest of their lives,” Rakoczy said.
A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office is below:
District Man Sentenced to 35 Years in Prison
For Shooting That Killed One Man, Wounded Another
Defendant Opened Fire on Group of Young Men
As They Walked Down Busy Public Street
WASHINGTON – Bernard Fleming, 23, was sentenced today to 35 years in prison for second-degree murder while armed and other charges involving a shooting on a busy public street that killed one man and wounded another, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced.
Fleming, of Washington, D.C., was found guilty by a jury in July 2014, following a trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In addition to the murder charge, the jury found him guilty of two counts of assault with intent to kill and related weapons offenses. He was sentenced by the Honorable Robert E. Morin.
A co-defendant, Joseph Peoples, 23, also of Washington D.C., was sentenced today to a year in prison for a weapons offense and tampering with evidence in the case.
According to the government’s evidence, Fleming shot the victims at about 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 7, 2012, in the 1700 block of Seventh Street NW. The gunfire killed Michael Jones, 30, and injured Mr. Jones’s brother.
Earlier in the day, Fleming got into a physical altercation with Mr. Jones’s brother. Fleming, Peoples, and a third individual then followed Mr. Jones’s brother to his home, banged on the door, threatened him, and demanded that he come outside. They left after Mr. Jones’s brother did not come outside, but returned about 90 minutes later - this time standing outside a window, and at one point shining a laser inside. Concerned for his safety, Mr. Jones’s brother called a friend and Mr. Jones. Soon after that, Mr. Jones, his brother, and two friends set out to try to find Fleming and Peoples to settle the dispute. They encountered Peoples outside an apartment building in the 1700 block of Seventh Street NW, and the shooting followed.
Peoples pulled out a gun. Fleming, who was standing on a balcony above Mr. Jones’s group, began shooting down on the victims. Ballistics evidence suggests that Fleming fired at least 11 shots at the group. Mr. Jones and his friend both took out guns and fired back in defense of themselves and the others in their group. Mr. Jones was struck in the back of the head and was killed almost immediately. Mr. Jones’s brother suffered graze wounds to his chest.
After the shooting, Peoples ran back inside the apartment building, met up with Fleming, and stashed the guns underneath a stairwell; one of the weapons was partially dismantled.
In addition to the sentences in this case, Fleming and Peoples also were sentenced today for their roles in a drug conspiracy that operated in the Shaw area during the summer of 2012.
In that matter, Fleming was sentenced to three years and Peoples to 21 months in prison.
In announcing the sentences, U.S. Attorney Machen commended the work of those who investigated the case for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). He also expressed appreciation for the assistance provided by the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences, the District of Columbia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the U.S. Secret Service. He acknowledged the efforts of those who worked on the case from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Erin O. Lyons and Jennifer Kerkhoff; Paralegal Specialists Alesha Matthews Yette, Fern Rhedrick and Mia Beamon; Intelligence Analyst Zachary McMenamin; Litigation Technology Specialist Leif Hickling; Victim/Witness Security Specialists Michael Hailey, M. Laverne Forrest and Debra Cannon, and Victim/Witness Advocate Tamara Ince. Finally, he commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Vinét Bryant and Kathryn Rakoczy, who prosecuted the case.