Teen gets second chance after Tippecanoe Mall shooting, sentenced to 20 years in juvenile prison

Judge Sean Persin found Iyon Erves guilty on six of eight charges, including attempted murder, after a bench trial in July. He is giving Erves a rare second chance by sending him to the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility

Posted: Nov 18, 2020 10:50 PM
Updated: Nov 20, 2020 12:58 PM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - The teenager found guilty of attempted murder for last December's shooting at the Tippecanoe Mall will spend 20 years in the Department of Corrections. However, Judge Sean Persin added a caveat to the sentencing to give Iyon Erves a rare second chance by sending him to juvenile prison and not adult prison.

Judge Persin found Erves guilty on six of his eight charges, including attempted murder, after a bench trial in July. The sentencing hearing was pushed back four times. One time was due to Erves getting new representation with Terrance Kinnard. Judge Persin acknowledged the importance of getting the sentencing hearing in before Erves turns 18 on December 14th. 

About 30 people showed up in support of Erves, five were witnesses the defense called on for character testimony. From behind his mask and as his hands were still bound by handcuffs, Erves waved and smiled the best he could at several people as they entered the courtroom.

Judge Persin also asked for the attorney's opinions on how he should handle the more than 200 letters mailed to the court in support of Erves. Judge Persin said he had never had so many letters mailed on behalf of a defendant before. Some were from people who knew Erves, but many were from complete strangers who had heard of the case through various mediums and wanted to share their opinions with the court.

Judge Persin decided he cannot consider the wishes of the community as evidence, seeing as none of those people had sat through the entire bench trial and heard all the evidence. He said he is proud to live in a community where people want to be involved, but decided not to put any significant weight on the letters.

Kinnard first called on Perry Clay to testify. Clay told the court he is not Erves biological grandfather, but is through marriage. He is a former military police officer who did two combat tours and who spent about 10 years on the Chicago Police Department. He said he has known Iyon since the day he was born. He and Iyon's grandmother helped raise him when he was young.

He described his grandson as a tough, intelligent, compassionate person who would help others without question. As he got through this part of the testimony, Erves broke down in tears listening to his grandfather. Clay said Erves came from a structured home with rules and boundaries, but was still pushed to reach his best potential. He remembered having conversations with Erves about how to become a police officer and the pros/cons of joining the military. He said Erves was trying to learn about his options of going to school or joining the forces.

He talked about how Erves takes a large role with his younger sister, who is four years old. He said he is more than a big brother to his sister and that he has parental instincts. At this point, he took a moment as he started to tear up. 

As a former police officer, Clay told the court he has been in the shoes of the officers from that December night, having to arrest young men like his grandson. He said sending someone Iyon's age to adult penitentiary would be the worst possible outcome. He said he fully understood Iyon must be punished and deserves consequences, but asked the judge to give Iyon the chance to return to them. He asked the judge for compassion, empathy and to recognize that Iyon has strong support in his family.

"Give him a chance," he said during testimony, as he told the judge he was confident that Iyon could bounce back from this.

Kiana Clay testified next. While she is technically Erves' aunt, they are similar in age and have more of a cousin-type of friendship. She said she is very close to Iyon and that she looked at him like a brother and as her protector. She said he is someone she trusts and would talk to everyday. She said he was never a bully, but rather someone who would stand up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. She described him as smart, compassionate and as someone with a good heart.

She testified that she has visited Iyon during his time in jail. She said he is ready to move on, be productive and that he has matured. She said he wants to get back to playing football, possibly joining the military, get a job and buy a car one day.

"He wants to redeem himself," she testified, saying he had taken responsibility for what happened, that he knows it was wrong and had accepted that he needed to be punished.

A former neighbor of Erves and his mother testified next. She remembered seeing Iyon and Kiana playing around the neighborhood being kids. She said he would help bring in her groceries or take out her trash without being asked. She described Erves as respectful and said she was shocked to learn what had happened, adding that it was out of his character. She also noted the strong relationship he had with his mom, saying they are "thick as thieves."

A family friend testified next. Christina Perry said she had several connections to Erves. Her son played football with him and her daughter had dated him. She said he often came over to their house and was polite and helpful. She said he would even scold her daughter, telling her to be more respectful towards her mom. She too began to choke up as she described him as a great kid who would continue to say hello to her in public even after he and her daughter had broken up.

She echoed the sentiments of those who testified before her, that while what took place was a horrible mistake, sending him to adult prison would only make things worse.

Finally, Erves' mother, Keya Erves, testified last. News 18 talked exclusively with her in August about what it's been like for her to see her son go throug this. She confirmed on Wednesday that she sat through the entire bench trial. She described her son as smart, compassionate, respectful, loving, caring and goal oriented. She began to break down in tears as she described his relationship with her younger daughter, saying he would baby sit her and teach her things like her ABC's, colors and how to write her name.

"He's a good kid," she said as she looked at him from the witness bench. She said she always tried to show him the right things despite her mistakes. In November of 2018, Keya was sentenced to three years in community corrections after entering a guilty plea agreement for intimidation with a deadly weapon.

She said she did not want her son to become a statistic, which is why she supported his football involvement, bought him the gear, went to his games and signed him up for the 21st Century Scholars program. She said she would involve him in how she ran her business, showing him how to do payroll, do taxes, stocks and how to put a business plan together. She said he really took an interest in learning how to become an entrepreneur. She said they would talk about going through counseling for peer pressure and bullying.

When asked about Iyon's attitude now, she said he wants to move past this and has learned to appreciate the small things in life. She said he wants a second chance to make things right with the main victim. She said he has learned that getting into petty arguments with people is not worth his freedom. She said he is receiving applications for college from IU and Georgia State University and that he has talked about having a trucking company one day called "Drip Trucking." She said she's talked with him about marriage and having kids and a house one day. She marveled at how much she had seen her son mature over this past year.

She said she took him out of McCutcheon High School to home school him and get him focused on grades. She said once football left the picture, he also lost his structure. She said he had too much idle time and that most of her attention was on her business. She said his respect level never changed, but she started to see her son become more isolated in the time leading up to the shooting.

She said this incident has gotten her full attention on him. Her plan is to be a stronger influence and really take him under her wing in life. 

"He will not disappoint the court," she told Judge Persin. "You won't see us again and he will stay on the right track no matter what."

Kinnard asked Keya if there was anything she could tell the court that could prove Iyon will stay on the right course if given a second chance. She said his mindset is determined after seeing the dark side of being locked up in jail over the past year. She assured the judge prison is not where her son wants to be and that he has razor vision on what he wants in life.

The state asked some cross-examination questions. The state asked about the counseling for bullying. Keya said she didn't feel equipped to handle that advice and wanted him to talk to someone who did. She said she didn't see any bullying in person, but that she wasn't watching his social media very carefully.

The state asked how much she had discussed her criminal past with her son. Keya said they did talk sometimes, but that she tried to keep it shielded from him. She said they did talk about how firearms are not a way to solve problems, but that they mainly talked about house arrest.

Finally the state asked if Iyon had started doing any GED programs while at the Tippecanoe County Jail. Keya said their previous attorneys had advised against it. Judge Persin chimed in here, clarifying that a person gets credit for doing GED programs in the DOC, but not in smaller jails. Keya confirmed that is what they had been told as to why Iyon should not start the programs now. She did confirm he was in anger management.

The defense submitted a certificate of his anger management course completion and photos of Erves with family members as evidence to the court. The state submitted several documents, including a 2017 McCutcheon High School Football roster. When Judge Persin questioned this roster, the state said it was the only year that Erves appeared on the roster, and that he did not appear in the 2018 or 2019 rosters.

Iyon Erves gave a statement to the court next. He said he regrets his actions and that he apologizes to the victims. He said he is young and not perfect and that he didn't know what was going through his mind that day. It didn't take long before he became very choked up with tears as he continued to read his statement. He said he wanted to do what it takes to clear himself, that he wants to be a good role model by going to college, learning and growing from this experience. He said he has seen a side of the criminal justice system that he does not want to see again.

His frustration at the situation seemed to take over his thoughts as he continued with his statement. Judge Persin asked him to pause for a moment to compose himself and catch his breath. He said he appreciated the court for giving him the chance to speak his truth, but that he did not attempt to murder anyone that day. He said it was a situation that was blown out of proportion. He said he could have kept shooting and that he could have killed someone that day, but he chose not to do either. He said it was a childish act, but that he did not try to kill anyone. 

He lost steam at this point. All around the gallery, sniffles and tearful breaths could be heard from the various family and friends in attendance. Judge Persin pointed out a key fact in this case: the main victim never testified. He acknowledged Erves' clear frustration about this and said he had never had an attempted murder case before where the main victim did not testify. 

Judge Persin then moved the hearing on to mitigator and aggravators from the state and defense. The state began by acknowledging there is precedent that shows an alternative juvenile sentence is possible in this case. The state acknowledged that Erves had clear family support, was a youthful offender and clearly has remorse. Through some back and forth between the state attorney and the judge, it became clear that Erves felt he was a victim of bullying from the main victim, and that is what led to the altercation at the mall. The state said it doesn't acknowledge that Erves was a victim of bullying because there was no hard evidence to show that was happening. Erves shook his head back and forth silently from the defense table as this discussion ensued.

The aggravators the state presented included the multiple victims of this incident. One mall-goer who testified during the trial had a leg injury that needed surgeries and time off work. She was also with her daughter that day and testified in July to being scared for her daughter's life. The state argued that the actions that led up to the shooting and after the shooting should be considered. Evidence showed that Erves wouldn't let a confrontation with the main victim go, that he suggested they move outside, that he shot with his arm straight out multiple times and that he hid the gun and bragged about it afterwards.

The state argued this goes beyond a spur-of-the-moment mistake, that Erves had multiple opportunities and chance to take a different course of action. She pointed out that premeditation is not a requirement of attempted murder, and that by simply pointing a loaded firearm at another person shows an intention to hit and kill. 

The state argued that there are now juvenile wings in adult DOC prisons. She concluded by asking the court for a 30 year sentence with 20 years in the DOC and 10 on probation.

Next was the defense's turn to argue aggravators and mitigators. Kinnard first acknowledged that he is not the original defense counsel in this case, but that he had read the trial transcripts several times. He said it is clear that the juvenile sentencing statute applies in this case, the true question is will Iyon Erves respond positively to rehabilitation?

He argued it's clear that he will after hearing the testimony from family. The common denominator with all is that Erves is a good kid, smart and respectful. Kinnard said in his several decades practicing law, he rarely has a defendant situated as well as Erves is when it comes to his family and support systems. He said with a laugh that he has never heard a mother speak so highly of a daughter's ex-boyfriend as he had with Ms. Perry's testimony. 

He said what happened that day at the mall goes against all the strong training Erves was clearly brought up with. He said we know Erves can thrive when he is in a safe, structured and consistent environment. While Erves does have some previous minor juvenile cases, none of them resulted in adjudication. He said Erves has to decide for himself if he wants to take the better path if given a second chance. He said it is clear his family will be behind him and encourage him every step of the way.

Another first for Kinnard, he said he had never seen 200 people from the community write positive letters to a court for a defendant. He said it is clear that people in this community support Erves, but now Erves has to do it for himself. He asked the court to send Erves to a juvenile facility with annual reviews of progress, with the possibility of suspending his remaining sentence to then be served on probation.

Judge Persin then began his decision process by talking through the various points made by both sides. He began by saying he believed Erves was a good person who had made mistakes and lost his way. With several instances caught with marijuana, not making school a priority, some fighting that had happened in the Tippecanoe County Jail, it was going to be a tough decision for him.

While Erves may have felt threatened by things happening with the main victim, he still made the choice to get a gun. He agreed with the state that Erves had many opportunities to change his course of action the day at the mall. He referred to the evidence that a tail light, which is about hip height, had been shattered with a bullet. He said it is clear Erves was not aiming into the sky even though Erves keeps telling himself that he was just trying to scare him. He said that is not consistent with the evidence and that he needs to hold himself accountable.

"You are lucky that no one died that day," said Judge Persin directly to Erves. He thought back to the majority of attempted murder cases he had heard and said most of them resulted in someone getting hit by a bullet, so he acknowledged that thankfully that didn't happen in this case.

He acknowledged what impact his decision would have on the rest of Erves life and did not take the decision lightly. He said these cases are the most heartbreaking for judges to decide on when thinking about the lost opportunities when sending a young person to prison.

He sided with the state on this case having multiple victims. He said everyone in the mall that day was a victim. He said this shook our entire community. Malls are supposed to be a fun and safe environment for people of all ages. It's a place you are never supposed to see gunshots fired at. 

"This community changed," said Judge Persin, as he also reflected on all the brave first responders from local police departments who ran straight into the unknown danger that day in order to try and protect the community.

He agreed with the defense that his criminal history was not substantial enough to be considered as a fault against him. He said he has seen juveniles stand before him in court who did have extensive criminal pasts, but Erves does not compare with those juveniles. However, while he did acknowledge that there may have been some bullying going on towards Iyon, he did not believe Iyon acted under provocation, pointing again to how Iyon initiated the confrontation at the mall that day.

He acknowledged that imprisonment would cause undue hardship on the family if he was locked away for 20 years. He said Erves' family support was wonderful and that he believed it would continue forever. However he looked at the family and said they have to make him do the work now and that this would be a tough road ahead for him. 

He agreed that youthful age is a mitigating factor in this case. Erves had only been 17 for a few weeks at the time of the incident. Judge Persin said that while most do not make mistakes of this magnitude, everyone does make mistakes at this age and the point is to learn from them.

He determined the mitigators outweighed the aggravators and sentenced him to 20 years in the Department of Corrections. There were several cries from the audience at this decision, but Judge Persin made it clear a sentence had to be given first before deciding of if he felt the juvenile statute would be appropriate.

"Is this someone who will succeed in the juvenile center?" he asked. He told Erves the previous bar had been set high. He said the last person he sent to juvenile prison under this statute did phenomenal. This person was top of his class, received a scholarship to a computer coding school, tutored the younger kids and even introduced Governor Eric Holcomb at an event promoting the program. 

"Are you serious about changing?" Judge Persin wondered aloud. "Or are you just saying the right things in this moment? Can you do it?" He told Erves there are going to be people who will want to take him down, who will want to get him to fight them and make poor decisions. He said it is going to take a lot of hard work, self-determination and conscious decision making of his own volition to get him through.

Ultimately, Judge Persin said he believed Iyon could do it. He said he would not even give him this rare second chance if he didn't think he was up for it. He said he expects him to stand out, to pursue these goals he's talked about with his family, to be a role model to the younger kids at the juvenile prison. "If you can do that, you'll make my job easy," said Judge Persin. After some yearly reviews, the court can decide to suspend his prison sentence and have him finish the remainder of this time in community corrections and on probation.

He then explained the flip side of this situation. If it becomes clear that he is not taking this opportunity seriously with his studies, if he engages in fights and other behavioral problems in the prison, if he is not committed to changing, he will be sent to adult prison where he will finish the remaining time on his sentence behind bars.

After Judge Persin concluded the hearing, Erves was escorted out of the courtroom to the sounds of cheering, clapping and I-love-you's from his family and friends. He had a large smile and waved back to his supporters as Tippecanoe County Sheriff's Deputies walked him to the elevator to bring him back to the jail. 

"The judge did an admirable job of not only focusing on punishment but also looking toward rehabilitation by allowing Mr. Erves to serve at least the beginning part of his sentence at a juvenile detention facility," said Kinnard after the hearing. "This is a young man who came from a very strong family with lots of family support. Show me that you can be back on the straightened arrow and I think that was one of the things that the judge specifically pointed to as to what gave him confidence."

Iyon Erves will be sent to the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility to begin his challenge of staying on the right path. His first annual review will happen this time next year.

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