Judge cuts sentence after Gardener expresses remorse for role in murder

Kevin Gardener

Last week, a Kingston teen was sentenced to 17 years to life in state prison for his role in a marijuana robbery last year that ended in murder.

The sentence handed down on Oct. 31 to 18-year-old Kevin Gardener was three years less than the one agreed to in a plea agreement. County Court Judge Donald Williams said he reduced the sentence based on Gardener’s age and his expression of what the judge called “true remorse” for the murder of Mark Lancaster.

Gardener, 18 was one of three men charged with murder in the Dec. 1, 2018 robbery and shooting. On the day of the incident, Gardener, then 17, went to the Sawkill Trailer Park accompanied by reputed Bloods gang member Maurice Stansberry Sr., now 39, and his son Maurice Stansberry Jr., also then 17. The trio had arranged to buy two ounces of marijuana from a teen who lived at the trailer park, but in fact intended to rob him. Lancaster, 38, brought his son Jashi Quilles, then 16, and another teen to the trailer park to carry out the deal. Testimony at trial indicated that Stansberry Sr., accompanied by Gardener, robbed the teens at gunpoint before fleeing in a car driven by Stansberry Jr. Lancaster was shot and killed after he pursued the getaway car in an attempt to retrieve the stolen marijuana. At his plea hearing, Gardener said under oath that he fired the fatal shot after Stansberry Sr. handed him the gun as Lancaster attempted to pull Stansberry Jr. from the driver’s seat. Prosecutors, meanwhile, say that forensic evidence in the case points to Stansberry Sr. as the shooter. Stansberry Sr. was convicted of murder following a jury trial and sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison. Stansberry Jr. entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors and testified against his father at trial. He is expected to plead guilty to robbery charges later this year.

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At his sentencing hearing last week, Gardener read a letter apologizing to Lancaster’s family and taking responsibility for his actions. Gardener said at the time of the murder he had become “consumed by fear and paranoia” and “programmed to kill” after an incident where he was shot at while visiting family in New Jersey and hanging out with a rough crowd

“In my mind it was easier to shoot than to walk away,” said Gardener. “Now I have the next however many years to think about how wrong that was.”

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ollowing Gardener’s statement, Lancaster’s mother, Donna Quilles, was invited to speak. She told Gardener that she had forgiven him. But she asked him to think about the trauma he had inflicted on her grandson who had watched his father bleed to death on the side of the road following the shooting. 

“I want you to realize the trauma you caused my grandson,” said Quilles. “Who will probably be in treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of his life.”

Before handing down the sentence, Williams said that he did not believe Gardener’s confession to pulling the trigger. If he did, Williams said, he would have imposed the maximum sentence of 25 years to life. Williams also noted evidence that Gardener had been involved in at least one previous marijuana robbery with the Stansberrys and that Gardener played an instrumental role in setting up the fateful rip-off. Williams added that Gardener had chosen to associate with Stansberry Sr., a known gang member, and participate in criminal activity.

But Williams said that his sentence also reflected what he believed was Gardener’s genuine expression of remorse and courage in choosing to apologize to the victim’s family.

“I have to send a message to other young people like you that if you make these choices, you suffer the consequences,” said Williams.

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utside the courtroom, after Gardener was led away in handcuffs, an emotional scene played out as Quilles and other family members embraced, cried and prayed with members of Gardener’s family. Senior Assistant District Attorney Emmanuel Nneji, who prosecuted the case, said both families behavior provided a stark contrast to the callousness that had played out on social media regarding the case, where supporters of the defendants denigrated the victim.

Said Nneji, “It shows that you can love your child and love your family and still hold them responsible for what they do.”

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