A Kingston teen was sentenced last week to five years in state prison for his role in a December 2018 marijuana robbery that ended in murder.
Maurice Stansberry Jr., 18, was sentenced by County Court Judge Donald Williams on Friday, Dec. 13. In addition to the five-year prison term, Stansberry Jr. was sentenced to five years of post-release supervision and served orders of protection requiring him to stay away from family members of murder victim Mark Lancaster.
Stansberry Jr. was the last defendant to be sentenced in the Dec. 1, 2018 shooting death of Lancaster, 38, in the aftermath of a botched marijuana robbery. His father, Maurice Stansberry Sr., 38, is serving a sentence of 25 years to life in prison after he was convicted at trial of second-degree murder, robbery and weapons possession charges. Another co-defendant, Kevin Gardener, 18, was sentenced to 17 years to life after pleading guilty to a single count of second-degree murder.
The charges stem from an incident at the Sawkill Trailer Park. Evidence at Stansberry Sr.’s trial shows that on the day of the murder, the three men arranged to buy a few ounces of marijuana from a teenage resident of the park, but in fact intended to rob him. The targeted victim, reached out to Lancaster’s son, Jahsai Quilles, to supply the marijuana. Quilles traveled to the trailer park accompanied by his father and another teen. As Stansberry Jr. waited behind the wheel of a Honda Civic, his father and Gardener met with Quilles and the other teen to exchange money for marijuana.
Instead, prosecutors said, Stansberry Sr. pulled a 9mm handgun, grabbed the weed and fled in the Civic with his son and Gardener. Lancaster gave chase in his Honda Pilot and cut off the Civic on Sawkill Road. Prosecutors say Lancaster was killed by a single gunshot wound through his torso as he attempted to pull Stansberry Jr. from the driver’s seat. In his guilty plea, Gardener claimed that he fired the fatal shot after Stansberry Sr. handed him the gun. But prosecutors said that forensic evidence shows that the older man was the shooter. Both Stansberrys and Gardener were charged with murder under New York’s felony murder statute which holds that when someone is killed in the commission of a felony, all participants in the underlying crime may be charged with murder.
Stansberry Jr. avoided a murder change after he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for testifying at his father’s murder trial. Under the terms of the deal, Stansberry Jr. was for his testimony allowed to plead guilty to a single count of robbery, with prosecutors’ recommendation that he receive no more than five years in state prison. The plea agreement also stipulated that Stansberry Jr. would not receive youthful offender status — a designation which would allow him to avoid a felony record — despite the fact that he was 17 years old at the time of the crime.
The mother speaks
Stansberry Jr.’s sentencing hearing took place before a courtroom packed with his supporters and friends and family of Lancaster. Lancaster’s mother, Donna Quilles, spoke about the pain of losing her son. Quilles, who was delivering her third victim impact statement in the case, said that that pain was compounded by the fact that Stansberry was allowed to remain free on bail and attend Kingston High School while the case was pending. Quilles said the Kingston City School District acted with callous disregard for her children, grandchildren and other young relatives who were forced to endure taunts and harassment by supporters of Stansberry Jr. — a popular student and member of the Kingston Tigers football team — in the halls of KHS and on social media.
“This whole system is broken,” said Quilles. “The person who left my son to bleed to death on the side of the road is lauded as some kind of football hero. What a disgusting society we live in.”
Prosecutors were allowed to introduce evidence of “prior bad acts” committed by Stansberry Jr., including at least one other marijuana rip-off committed with his father and Gardener and a series of street fights for which he was picked up by police but never charged. In his own statement, Stansberry Jr. apologized to Lancaster’s family and conceded that his own bad choices have led to his pending incarceration. Asked by Williams why he had made those choices, Stansberry Jr. said that, at least in part it was to impress his father, a purported member of the Bloods gang with a long rap sheet.
“I did it to fit into, like, what my father had done,” Stansberry Jr. told the court. “Because I looked up to him as a role model.”