A Colorado Springs teenager who fatally shot a man in the back of the head outside a crowded restaurant in 2016 was sentenced Friday to seven years in a prison for youthful offenders.
Ramon Peter Eskridge, 18, benefited from problems police had investigating the killing of Gary Thomas-Harris Jr. in the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Colorado Springs, including an unruly crowd who slowed life-saving efforts and refused to talk to police.
“You have in some way dodged a bullet,” 4th Judicial Judge G. David Miller told the defendant in sending him to Youthful Offender System in Pueblo, which emphasizes rehabilitation.
The penalty was part of a deal under which Eskridge pleaded guilty to second-degree murder that left the judge without discretion. Under terms of the deal, Eskridge also received a 35-year suspended sentence to prison, which he could serve only if he causes significant trouble in custody.
Sixteen at the time of the July 16, 2016, shooting, Eskridge had feuded with Thomas-Harris earlier that night at a house party in Colorado Springs.
When the party broke up amid gunfire, the teenager learned that Thomas-Harris was headed to a McDonald’s at Astrozon and Academy boulevards, and he went there first.
When Thomas-Harris got out of a car about 2:30 a.m., Eskridge approached holding a .40-caliber pistol and shot from behind at point-blank range, prosecutor Michael Allen told the court, calling it an “assassination.”
“When you walk up to someone and shoot them in the back of the head, that’s what it is in my mind,” Allen said.
First-responders encountered dozens of people in the McDonald’s parking lot, and were physically delayed in getting to Thomas-Harris to try to save his life, according to comments in court.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Miller said. He blamed onlookers for contributing to the victim’s death, as well as for preventing justice by failing to cooperate with police and prosecutors.
Even though many people could have seen the shooting, only two stepped forward to describe what they saw, ultimately identifying Eskridge as the shooter and picking his photo from a lineup. Eskridge was arrested in Louisiana, where he fled a day after the shooting.
However, both witnesses had previously denied seeing anything. Also, both evaded prosecutors’ attempts to track them down ahead of trial, Allen said.
“We essentially had zero cooperation from witnesses,” Allen said. “The mere fact we were able to salvage something from this case is a victory.”
Thomas-Harris, 20, was a Colorado Springs native and high school soccer star who still holds Sierra High School’s record for goals scored in a single season, 21.
His family said he had a full-ride soccer scholarship to attend college in South Carolina but decided to pursue a semiprofessional soccer career in San Antonio, where his mother, stepfather and siblings now live. He was shot on the night of his going-away celebrations.
“You have irreparably destroyed our family,” his mother, Katherin Harris, told Eskridge by conference call. Her son is survived by a wife and two children.
Wearing an orange jail jumpsuit, Eskridge briefly apologized in court, telling the victim’s family, “If I could take it back, I would without hesitation.”
But he never fully explained the “beef” that led him to take a life, Miller said, and his comments seemed to flout the gravity of his crime, which he described as if he were “watching a video game.”
“I don’t think you understand what it means to die,” Miller told the defendant.
The judge denied a request to grant Eskridge six months credit for time served because of the more than two years he spent in custody, telling him he got a “pretty darn good deal” and deserved “far more” than seven years.