Masonique Saunders has been sentenced to three years in a Department of Youth Services prison on charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery. The charges stem from Saunders' role in an armed robbery that ended with a Columbus Police officer fatally shooting her boyfriend, Julius Ervin Tate, Jr.
In Franklin County Juvenile Court on Friday, Magistrate Woodrow Hudson accepted the recommendations laid out by defense and prosecution attorneys for Saunders, 17. Saunders has the option to apply for early release after two years, conditional on good behavior.
“I read those files pretty closely, so if you’re doing well there and you earn the right to get out early, it will certainly be considered,” Hudson said during the sentencing.
Saunders helped organize a December 7 robbery in which Tate pulled a gun on an undercover Columbus Police officer conducting a sting operation. Another officer then fatally shot Tate.
Saunders agreed to a plea deal in May in which she admitted to her role in the robbery and accepted charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggrevated robbery, while also avoiding being tried as an adult. Orginially, Franklin County prosecutors charged Saunders with felony murder, which Ohio law allows because she participated in the robbery in which an accomplice was killed.
"She did share in money that was gained from the series of robberies, and at least by her estimate, there were at least 15 of these robberies that happened over a period of time," said County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien in May.
Columbus Police last year conducted several undercover stings as part of a crackdown on armed robberies. An undercover SWAT officer would pose as a potential buyer, agreeing to meet an online seller to exchange an item for cash, while other officers hid nearby. At least two stings resulted in police shooting suspects, including Tate.
A group of protesters from the outside the courthouse criticized Saunders' sentencing. One activist, Ben Willis, said putting Saunders behind bars for Tate’s death was punishing her for something she didn’t do.
“We have tons of sayings like, ‘Boys will be boys’ and, ‘Oh they were kids, that was so long ago.’ But it seems that that excuse doesn't really qualify for anyone of color,” Willis said.
Saunders will receive credit for the time she’s already spent in custody, so her mom, Danielle Williams, said she hopes her daughter will be released before next Christmas.
Activists have called for an independent investigation into Tate's death.