The fatal shooting of a Roanoke teenager last winter was sparked by a petty theft, prosecutors have said, and the killing that resulted will cost the gunman about a decade in prison.
Denke Tequan Gaither, 21, pleaded no contest Wednesday to one count of second-degree murder as well as one count of using a firearm to commit that crime. Through his plea agreement, he got 20 years for the death, suspended after he serves seven years, plus a three-year active term on the gun charge.
The victim in the case was Atlante’ McArthur Dent, a student who had been due to graduate from Noel C. Taylor Learning Academy and who had turned 18 just two weeks before his body was found, on Nov. 27, 2017, lying in a yard in the 2400 block of Delaware Avenue.
In a summary of the prosecution’s evidence, Roanoke Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jack Patterson said investigators used Facebook to pinpoint friends of Dent’s who were with him the night of the shooting. An acquaintance told police Dent had opened the door of a Cadillac in the 2300 block of Delaware, then shots rang out and the friend said he didn’t see Dent after that.
Patterson said that thread led police to Gaither, who lived on that block and initially denied knowledge of the shooting. A search of his home prompted the seizure of firearms, bullets, cellphones and digital scales. Police also found five spent shell casings in a trash container, Patterson said.
According to the summary, Gaither later acknowledged to police that he had seen strangers in his car that night, so he’d gone out with a .38-caliber Taurus revolver and had taken five shots in their direction. He claimed he did not know he had hit anyone, but Patterson said the ammunition used in the shooting matched the bullets Gaither used, and Dent’s DNA was a match with genetic material found on the slug.
Patterson said police found $15 cash and a sunglasses case on Dent’s person, items that reportedly had been in Gaither’s car.
“There was evidence Mr. Dent was committing a crime when these events happened,” Patterson acknowledged in court.
Dent was struck in the hip and in the chest, and the second wound proved fatal, the medical examiner’s office has said.
In January, Gaither was indicted on a charge of murder, and his plea came just a few days before his case was set to go to a jury trial. He’ll be on active supervised probation for five years after his release.
A related charge of malicious wounding, brought against Gaither last December, was dropped in January.
He does not appear to have any other felonies listed in Roanoke Valley circuit courts.
Friends and relatives of Dent’s were present at Wednesday’s hearing, but afterward they said they did not want to talk about the case or its resolution.
Dent was the youngest of four children. At a candlelight vigil held in the days after he was killed, his three siblings remembered him as precocious and good-natured.
“Atlante’ was my baby,” his elder sister, Dawnecia Dent, said at the time. “He was my kid before I had kids.”
Dent’s death marked the 13th of 16 reported homicides in Roanoke in 2017.