Stiff sentence in beating as family watched

Posted: April 10, 2014

If Shaquir Johnson had doubts about pleading guilty, they ended Tuesday as he watched, for the first time, a video of him and a cousin beating and kicking a man in a Southwest Philadelphia pizzeria as the man's terrified wife and 5-year-old son watched.

It was enough for Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Rayford A. Means, who sentenced Johnson to 71/2 to 15 years in prison "for the protection of the public."

Johnson, 20, who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, conspiracy, and robbery, apologized to his own family and to the victim and his family in the Sept. 22, 2012, incident at 60th Street Pizza.

"I want another chance," Johnson told the judge.

Means, however, sentenced Johnson to the prison term asked for by the prosecutor - way above the four to five years recommended under state sentencing guidelines.

Means said the video of the beating of Charles Distin by Johnson and cousin Nasire Davis, 16, "shocks the people of Philadelphia. It's what makes people leery about going out. It was a cowardly attack by two against one."

The video, played in court, starts with the interior of the pizza shop as Davis confronts Distin, then 53, and suddenly punches him in the face. Johnson is seen pushing his cousin away from the victim and then dragging Distin outside.

There, another camera shows the cousins kicking and beating Distin as his wife, Ivy Bell, 45, tries to stop them and as the couple's then 5-year-old jumps up and down in terror.

Assistant District Attorney Morgan Model Vedejs did not name the child, who is seen being knocked to the ground outside. She said Distin sustained broken ribs and scrapes and bruises, and was hospitalized overnight.

"This man, he's the adult, he should know better," Vedejs told the judge, referring to Johnson.

Defense attorney Shaka Johnson (no relation) argued that there was more to what happened than what the video showed. Johnson said Distin must have triggered the argument with Davis.

"There's something amiss, there's something wrong with his story," Johnson said of the victim.

He said a long sentence for his client was unjust, adding that Davis was sentenced to house arrest after pleading guilty as a juvenile.

Shaquir Johnson's mother, grandmother, and aunt had asked Means to be lenient and promised to help when he got out of prison.

Vedejs, however, said the video showed Davis "sucker-punch" Distin, and then he and his cousin "beat the crap out of this man for no reason."

She said the victim told police that Davis walked up to him and said, "Do you have a problem with me?" and then punched him in the face.

"It's absolutely egregious," Vedejs added. "It wasn't just a little fistfight. This was an all-out beating."

215-854-2985 @joeslobo


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