An Albemarle man who shot and killed his friend last year was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday.
The emotional hearing stemmed from the Nov. 14, 2020 shooting death of Tiewan Benston, 41. Benston was killed by Bryan Garick Hatcher, 47, following a drunken dispute over a wallet Hatcher believed to be missing.
The socially distanced Charlottesville Circuit Court was full Monday as family and friends of both men arrived to show somber support for their loved ones.
Hatcher was initially charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in October, as well to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Per sentencing guidelines, Hatcher faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.
The first witness called to the stand was Denita Latta, Benston’s ex-wife and the mother of two of his children. Latta’s speech was occasionally marked with sobs as she read a pre-written impact statement on behalf of herself and her two adult sons, whom she said did not attend because they couldn’t bear to face Hatcher.
“As a mother, the worst thing is to see your children struggling with no way to help them,” she said.
Latta recalled the many times Benston had helped her and her family over the course of his life, describing him as the kind of person who put others first. A highly involved father, Latta said Benston took pride in attending the graduations of his sons, looking at the occasions as important life markers.
Through pained words, Latta said it broke her heart to know that Benston was unable to attend the 2021 high school and college graduations of his sons.
“Tie missed it all,” she said. “He waited 24 years for these moments and he missed them all.”
Through her work as a public defender, Latta said she had defended people in the same position as Hatcher and knew that nobody wins in these situations and to not judge Hatcher for his crimes.
“I firmly believe people should not be judged by their worst mistakes,” she said. “I believe they should be sentenced, be able to reform and become better people. Prove me right.”
Speaking on behalf of her sons, Latta had requested a 15 year prison sentence. Though it had pained her to ask her young sons to make such a decision, Latta said they had considered the situation and decided that 15 years was fair.
One of the more than a dozen people present to support Hatcher was Janice Johnson, Hatcher’s maternal aunt and a strong source of support in his life. During her testimony, Johnson outlined the many traumas of her nephew’s life, including a lifelong battle with alcoholism.
Hatcher had suffered much loss in his life, Johnson said, and was at one point the victim of a shooting that also resulted in the death of a close friend. This trauma was followed by more deaths and injuries during which time Johnson said she noticed Hatcher’s alcohol consumption increased.
When he is released she said he has a robust support network that will connect him with the resources needed to combat his addiction and hold him accountable.
“Nobody’s perfect and people shouldn’t be judged by one bad decision or bad action,” she said. “I think [Hatcher] knows what he needs to do to become a productive person. He has the tools and the support to become a different person.”
During his closing argument, Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Joe Platania asked Judge Richard E. Moore for the 15-year maximum sentence. Referencing comments made by Latta earlier, Platania said cases like this were particularly difficult on the family of the victim, the family of those charged and the community.
“[Latta] said nobody wins here and truly nobody wins here,” he said. “How many times have I stood here and here with cases like this and…nobody wins.”
The fact that the death was the result of an altercation over a wallet Hatcher thought was lost was senseless, Platania said, a crime made all the more tragic after the wallet was found later. As a victim of a crime himself, Platania said he found it troubling that Hatcher had been armed, having seen firsthand the kind of harm a gun can cause.
One of Hatcher’s attorneys, Liz Murtagh, highlighted her client’s difficult life and played a video of Hatcher soon after his arrest. A visibly inebriated Hatcher can be heard demanding to know what he is being charged with and, after hearing that Benston was dead, he immediately crumples into the chair, apparently unable to handle the news.
“The thing that stood out to me about this case is the pain and trauma,” Murtagh said. “Every single person in this courtroom is affected by the death of Mr. Benston. Everyone is in pain and nothing can take that away.”
Murtagh requested a seven year sentence, arguing that prison will be particularly difficult for Hatcher, who suffers from medical issues related to various injuries sustained over the course of his life.
Before he was sentenced, Hatcher spoke on his own behalf, expressing remorse and taking responsibility for his actions.
“You may think my heart was full of malice, that’s certainly how I felt when I was in your shoes,” Hatcher said, directing his comments to Benston’s family. “I want to tell you that I am not that monstrous person at all.”
After taking around a half-hour recess to mull over the decision, Judge Moore sentenced Hatcher to a 10 year active sentence.
Moore said the sentence did not mean that he was finding Hatcher to be a bad person but the sentence did reflect that Hatcher had done a very bad thing. Crimes like this are often seen as being just between two people, Moore said, but are in truth community events which cause pause for decades to come.
“Throughout this hearing the word that kept coming to mind was ‘senseless,’” Moore said. “It’s sad, but it is not the only time I’ve seen a senseless tragedy like this. Two lives were wasted here. You can save some of yours, Mr. Hatcher. Mr. Benston cannot.”
Moore said he believes Hatcher will have a life after his sentence and that he’s already well on his way to bettering himself. However, considering Hatcher’s multiple prior convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol and for possessing a firearm, Moore said he could not overlook the poor decisions that led to Benston’s death.
For the manslaughter charge, Moore sentenced Hatcher to 10 years in prison with one year and six months suspended. For the firearm charge, Hatcher was sentenced to five years with two years and six months suspended. Though the sentence totaled 11 years, Moore said he would allow one year from each charge to be served concurrently, for a total active term of 10 years.
Upon release Hatcher will be subject to three years of supervised probation and, starting Monday, will be on 15 years of good behavior during which time he is not allowed to consume alcohol or drugs.