Miami man gets 40 years in prison for gun battle that killed 6-year-old King Carter

A father still grieves, one year after losing his son to gun violence

Santonio Carter describes the difficulties of moving on one year after his son, 6-year-old King Carter, was killed by a stray bullet while playing outside his Northwest Miami-Dade apartment.
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Santonio Carter describes the difficulties of moving on one year after his son, 6-year-old King Carter, was killed by a stray bullet while playing outside his Northwest Miami-Dade apartment.

When a stray bullet from a gun battle took his life, 6-year-old King Carter became a searing symbol of the systematic violence tearing apart Miami’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

Families, political figures and community leaders marched in outrage in the weeks following the February 2016 killing. County officials named a street in his honor. And his father, Santonio Carter, emerged as a wrenching voice for parents affected by gun violence.

It was against that backdrop that Carter and his wife, Monica, drove to Miami’s criminal court on Monday to watch his son’s killer plead guilty to second-degree murder. The shooter, Irwen Pressley, 21, accepted a prison sentence of 40 years — a bittersweet moment for the Carters, whose son remains gone forever.

“It doesn’t change the fact in our hearts, our reality,” said Carter, who added that seeing another young black man go to prison is still a “lose-lose” all around. “I know he didn’t go there to shoot my son. But that doesn’t change anything.”

The Carter family is scheduled to celebrate King’s birthday on July 27 — the same day Monica is supposed to give birth to a daughter. Her name will be Queen Carter.

“Santonio and Monica really wanted closure,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said of the plea deal. “The community needed closure. I think justice was best served this way.”

The plea deal caps the final criminal-court case for the three young men involved in murder of King, a first-grader at Van E. Blanton Elementary School.

Irwen Pressley, who pleaded guilty to the murder of 6-year-old King Carter in February 2016, appears in court shortly after his arrest.

Prosecutors said Pressley, Tamar Teems and Leonard Adams were looking to kill a rival at the Blue Lake Village Apartments, on the 1200 block of Northwest 103rd Street. The sides had been feuding via Facebook for unknown reasons.

The trio borrowed a Lexus belonging to a friend’s mother. They stopped at a park in Opa-locka to smoke, then drove to the apartment complex, where Teems spotted their target, Juwuan “Juju” Ray, sitting on some steps. Teems recognized him by his sneakers.

Police said Pressley jumped out of a car and began firing at Ray, who ran upstairs and returned fire. Others in the complex also shot back. A stray bullet killed King.

Whose bullet killed King remained unknown. The projectile passed through the child’s body and was never found. Investigators did not believe it was Ray’s because of where the boy was found, around two corners and out of range.

Under Florida law, the three young men who started the attack still faced felony murder charges regardless because they participated in the attack that led to the boy’s death.

Adams, the getaway driver, was shot and wounded in the neck. The teens escaped and Adams briefly went to a hospital. Miami-Dade homicide detectives arrested the three days later.

Teems, who had a gun but claimed it jammed upon firing, wound up pleading guilty and was sentenced to five years in state prison. Adams cooperated with prosecutors and was also sentenced to five years in prison, plus one year of house arrest.

Pressley faced significant prison time, even before going to trial.

At the time of his arrest, he was on probation for a 2013 armed robbery. He had just completed a portion of Miami-Dade’s lauded boot camp program.

Monday’s hearing was originally scheduled so that Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler could decide if Pressley violated his probation by getting arrested for murder. He faced up to 30 years in prison just for the violation. He ended up accepting the 40-year plea deal for probation violation, and King’s murder.

With credit for time served, and if he behaves in prison, Pressley would get out of custody in his early 50s.

“He’ll get another opportunity,” said defense lawyer P.J. Mitchell.