A Kingston man is facing 25 years to life in state prison after his conviction for the Dec. 1 murder of Mark Lancaster following a marijuana robbery gone very wrong at the Sawkill Trailer Park. The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for just over four hours on Friday, July 19 before finding Maurice Stansberry Sr., 39, guilty of second-degree murder, robbery and criminal possession of a weapon.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 2018, Stansberry, his son Maurice Stansberry Jr., then 17 and their friend Kevin Gardener, also then 17, went to the trailer park with a plan to rob 16-year-old Patrick Sutton of two ounces of marijuana. According to witnesses testimony — including Stansberry Jr. who testified against his father — the elder Stansberry hatched the plan and, at Gardener’s request, brought along a 9mm handgun. The trio then traveled to the trailer park to meet up with Sutton.
Sutton, meanwhile, reached out to his friend, Lancaster’s son, Jahsi Quilles, 17, who agreed to bring him the marijuana to sell to Stansberry. Shortly before noon, Lancaster arrived at the trailer park in his black Honda Pilot with Quilles and Quilles’ friend Sebastian Lynch, 17. Lynch and Quilles met up with Stansberry Sr., Gardener and Sutton outside a trailer while Lancaster and Stansberry Jr. waited in their respective vehicles. At trial, Sutton, Quilles, Lynch and a fourth teen who witnessed the incident all testified that Stansberry Sr. produced a handgun before fleeing back to his son’s car with Gardener and the stolen pot.
Lancaster, Quilles and Lynch took off in pursuit. A mile and a half down the road, Lancaster managed to pull ahead of Stansberry Jr.’s Honda Civic, forcing him to stop. Lamcaster, Quilles and Lynch then surrounded the car. According to testimony, Lancaster had forced the Pilot’s driver’s side door open and was attempting to pull Stansberry Jr. out while demanding his marijuana back when someone inside the car fired a single gunshot.
Accounts diverge about who fired the fatal shot. Gardener, who pleaded guilty to murder days before the trial began, said he shot Lancaster from the back seat after Stansberry Sr. handed him the gun. Stansberry Jr. gave similar testimony on the witness stand. But Lynch, who was standing directly behind Lancaster during the scuffle, testified that Stansberry Sr. actually fired the shot. Speaking after the trial, District Attorney Holley Carnright said forensic evidence, crime scene reconstruction and his knowledge of Stansberry Sr. all led him to believe that the older man was in fact the killer.
“Just based on his personality, his maturity and his criminal history, it doesn’t make sense that [Stansberry Sr.] would give up the gun.”
Lancaster fell into the road, mortally wounded by a bullet which entered the left side of his lower abdomen and came out his right buttock, shredding a major blood vessel along the way. As Quilles, Lynch and a passing motorist tried to stem the bleeding, the robbery crew drove off, taking refuge at a friend’s apartment in the Stony Run complex. There, they smoked some of the stolen marijuana, disposed of the gun by handing it off to an acquaintance — the weapon was never recovered — and eventually surrendered to police as SWAT teams surrounded the complex.
The Stansberrys and Gardener were all charged with second-degree murder under New York’s felony murder statue. The law holds that when someone is killed during or in immediate flight from a crime, all participants in the underlying crime can be held liable for the death.
At trial, Stansberry Sr.’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Russell Schindler, argued that no gun was displayed during the weed ripoff. Instead, he suggested the group either paid for the marijuana using fake $100 bills or simply grabbed it and ran off. If that was the case, Schindler argued, there was no felony crime committed and thus Stansberry Sr. could not be convicted of felony murder.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, argued that eyewitness testimony and a text sent by Stansberry Jr. to his girlfriend in which he says he believes his father is going to “put a gun to this guy’s head” all indicated that Stansberry Sr. produced the firearm. Assistant district attorneys Emmanuel Nneji and Timothy Lawson handled the case for the prosecution.
Stansberry Sr. faces a maximum of 25 years to life when he’s sentenced in October. Carnright said the elder Stansberry was a member of the Bloods gang with a rap sheet going back 20 years that includes numerous misdemeanors and a felony conviction for drug sales.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Gardener, who did not testify at the trial, is expected to receive a sentence of 20 years to life. Carnright said that according to the terms of a plea deal worked out with Stansberry Jr. in June, his office will drop the murder charge against the teen in exchange to a plea of guilty on a single charge of first-degree robbery. Carnright said that based on Stansberry Jr.’s youth and lesser degree of culpability in the robbery and subsequent shooting, his office would recommend that he receive less than the 15-year maximum prison sentence for robbery.