PEARISBURG — A multi-generational history of drug abuse, death and absentee parents doesn’t mitigate Darren Justin Cecil’s role in a fatal home invasion, a Giles County judge said Wednesday.
As Cecil’s infant daughter, born since his arrest, cried in a hallway outside the courtroom, the 19-year-old was sentenced to serve 23 years in prison.
“There’s no way to turn a blind eye to what happened,” Judge Lee Harrell said after hearing Cecil testify that in January 2018, he agreed to help his father rob a neighbor — and assembled a group that included 20-year-old Dakota Ryan Bailey of Narrows, who was shot to death during the attempted theft.
“In bringing someone else into it,” Harrell said, “you really poured out the cataract of disaster.”
In October, Cecil pleaded guilty to armed burglary, attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, conspiracy to commit burglary, and use of a firearm to commit a felony.
Wednesday’s sentencing hearing ran more than two hours as Commonwealth’s Attorney Bobby Lilly said Cecil deserved years behind bars and that he and his co-defendants — including his father, David Joseph Cecil, 48 — should pay for Bailey’s funeral.
Defense attorney Everett Shockley of Dublin countered that Darren Cecil’s youth and difficult family history argued for a lighter sentence.
Darren Cecil, his mother and his girlfriend testified about a cycle of destructive behavior they said had gripped the family.
Cecil said 10 relatives, including his grandmother, died from drug overdoses during the past decade. His mother, weeping throughout her testimony, put the number of deaths at seven.
Sheryl Cecil, Darren Cecil’s mother, testified that for much of the past 30 years, until the past year or so, “I cared about nothing but drugs and running around.” She said that her presence in her son’s life had been mostly via telephone, calling from other states to say that she couldn’t come home because she would be arrested.
Sheryl Cecil said that she no longer uses drugs and urged Harrell to send her son to rehabilitation.
Kaitlyn Lambert also testified, saying that she and Darren Cecil had a daughter together and had reconnected after his arrest, bonding partly over difficult situations in their pasts. She said he now seemed far more open and communicative than before.
Darren Cecil apologized several times during the hearing. He said his hope now was to further his education in prison and eventually start a new life with Lambert and his daughter.
He testified that his own father, who pleaded guilty in January to charges stemming from the home invasion, was in prison for much of his boyhood. Darren Cecil said that he was taken in by his late grandmother’s longtime boyfriend, who gave him a place to stay in the Wolf Creek area and jobs with his masonry company.
Cecil testified that he began drinking and smoking marijuana at age 11 or 12, started abusing Xanax at 15, and soon was using cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin and “anything I could get my hands on.” Cecil said that by the time he was 18, he was regularly injecting Suboxone, which brought on depression.
A few years ago, his father returned from a stint in prison and moved into a residence a few miles away from him. Darren Cecil testified that he would go to his father’s home and they would drink and inject drugs together.
On the night of the home invasion, Darren Cecil said that he had taken Suboxone before his father began a series of phone calls. David Cecil said that he thought Anthony Dewayne Gautier, who they knew as “Ant,” had drugs and money in his home on Stockpen Mountain Road just 300 yards or so from David Cecil’s residence, Darren Cecil testified.
David Cecil said he wanted his son’s help in robbing Gautier, Darren Cecil testified. Darren Cecil said he refused — until the fifth or sixth call, when David Cecil said he would go alone to Ant’s house. Darren Cecil said he was afraid his father would get hurt. “I didn’t think I could live with myself if something happened,” Darren Cecil said.
Darren Cecil said he called Tyler Lee Foster, 19, of Narrows and asked him to help and to bring Blade Donovan Powers, 20, of Wytheville. Foster also brought Bailey and Lindsey Paige Robertson, 21, of Pearisburg, Darren Cecil said. Also in the group, he said, was Darren Cecil’s then-girlfriend, Megan Kaylee Shaver, 19, of Lynchburg.
Just after midnight on Jan. 3, 2018, Darren Cecil said, the group rode in his father’s Jeep to Gautier’s driveway. He said he told Shaver to take the Jeep and leave, then joined his father and the others as they kicked in Gautier’s door.
Darren Cecil said that the group had at least three guns that belonged to him, but said he brought only one bullet. As the group went into Gautier’s home, shots started, then Bailey came outside, Darren Cecil testified.
“He was smacking his chest … He looked at me and said, ‘He shot me,’ ” Darren Cecil said.
Darren Cecil said he ran through the woods back to his father’s house, stopping to hide one of the guns under leaves. He said that as others returned and said his father also was shot, he and others drove the Jeep back to Gautier’s driveway. They pulled both wounded men into the vehicle. Bailey was unconscious but still alive at that point, Darren Cecil said.
Soon, Darren Cecil said, emergency dispatchers were called and he drove to meet an ambulance and police at a bank parking lot in Narrows. Bailey was pronounced dead, and David Cecil was airlifted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
“Ruined my life, lost my best friend … it was a terrible mistake,” Darren Cecil said through tears Wednesday.
Everyone Darren Cecil named Wednesday, apart from his father, has charges pending. Lilly said Gautier would not be charged for shooting Bailey or David Cecil because it was clearly in self-defense — but due to a criminal record, Gautier was charged with being a felon in possession of a gun.
David Cecil is awaiting sentencing.
Calling the case difficult and complicated, Harrell said he felt compassion for Darren Cecil but would still impose a sentence of 83 years behind bars, to be suspended after Cecil served 23 years.
Harrell declined to order Cecil to pay for Bailey’s funeral but said he and other defendants owe Gautier and the co-owner of his home $1,800 for repairs to the kicked-in door, and to windows and drywall damaged by bullets.