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Lewil sentenced to 20 years

Victim's mother: 'Her death has been so traumatic, I cannot sleep'

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Defendant Denharrio Lewil, 19, of Fort Dodge, answers questions asked by District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe during Lewil's sentencing hearing on Monday at the Webster County Courthouse. Lewil pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, reckless use of a firearm resulting in serious injury and carrying weapons. He had been facing first-degree murder and attempted murder charges following the Sept. 20, 2020, shooting death of 18-year-old J'Lynn Beason.

Through tears and shaky breaths, Jenny Whitfield told a Webster County courtroom how her 18-year-old daughter, J’Lynn Beason, was “senselessly and cruelly” taken from her in September 2020.

“J’Lynn’s death has left me vulnerable and scared to face my life without her by my side,” Whitfield, a Davenport resident, said. “Her death has been so traumatic, I cannot sleep.”

Whitfield was reading her victim impact statement at the sentencing hearing on Monday for Denharrio K. Lewil, 19, of Fort Dodge, who pleaded guilty to shooting the gun that killed Beason, who was a resident of Davenport at the time.

Lewil was originally charged with attempted murder and first-degree murder after the Sept. 20, 2020, shooting. In February, he pleaded guilty to three amended charges, admitting to shooting at D’ante Whitfield, 22, with a semi-automatic pistol in the 400 block of South 14th Street. Instead of killing D’ante Whitfield, Lewil’s shots killed his nearby sister, Beason, who died the next day at a Des Moines hospital.

Lewil pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, a Class C felony; reckless use of a firearm resulting in serious injury, a Class C felony; and carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Jenny Whitfield, mother of shooting victim J'Lynn Beason, reads a victim impact statement during the sentencing hearing for Denharrio Lewil, 19, who admitted to shooting the bullets that killed Beason in September 2020.

District Court Judge Kurt Stoebe sentenced Lewil to 20 years in prison — 10 for each of the felonies, to be served consecutively; and two years for the misdemeanor, to be served concurrently with the other sentences.

“Today, the state is confident that the defendant was held accountable for the specific crimes he committed,” said First Assistant Webster County Attorney Ryan Baldridge. “Though plea agreements are often viewed negatively, arriving at a joint agreement in this case was beneficial to the state of Iowa.”

Prior to handing down the sentence, Stoebe listened to victim impact statements from Beason’s family.

Tonya Reed, of the Domestic/Sexual Assault Outreach Center’s Homicide and Other Violent Crimes Program, read a letter on behalf of Beason’s grandparents, Willie and Jutta Whitfield.

“The word ‘never’ really didn’t mean a lot to me before,” she read. “It feels like such a strong and powerful word. And that’s because J’Lynn will never graduate from college, never fall in love, never get married, never be a mother, never be a grandmother. There will never be any more birthdays, never any more backyard barbecues, never any more holiday celebrations, never any more laughs, hugs and ‘I love yous.'”

The letter continued, “Because of the defendant’s reckless behavior that night, J’Lynn will never be able to live out her full potential in life by helping people in need and making a huge difference in the world.”

“J’Lynn’s death has left a hole in my heart that can never be filled,” Jenny Whitfield said as she gave her victim impact statement to the Court.

Stoebe also allowed Lewil to speak on his own behalf before sentencing.

“To the family, I owe an apology and I hear your pain. I want you to know with all my heart, I apologize,” Lewil said. “I think about that moment every day. I’m not a bad person … I pray for you every night. … I want you to know I’m sorry.”

Stoebe asked Lewil where he had obtained the gun he had that night, and Lewil told him he bought it from a friend in July 2020 and he kept it in his vehicle.

In the early morning of Sept. 20, 2020, he had that gun in his vehicle when he had a verbal altercation with D’ante Whitfield. According to the defense, Lewil believed D’ante Whitfield was armed when he started to walk “menacingly” toward Lewil. Lewil raised his gun at D’ante Whitfield and fired at least three times. All three shots struck Whitfield’s vehicle and at least one of the shots struck Beason, who was sleeping in the back seat.

Prior to the sentencing, the state recommended the sentences for the two felonies to run consecutively for 20 years, while the defense asked that the two felonies, as well as the misdemeanor, run concurrently for 10 years.

“The purposes of sentencing are rehabilitation, deterrence and incapacitation or protection of the public,” Stoebe said as he prepared to hand down the sentence. “I have to look at what is best suited to rehabilitate you, to deter you from committing additional offenses, to deter others who might look at this case and see what penalty they might receive and to protect the public.”

Lewil must accept responsibility for pulling the trigger, the judge said.

“This is a horrendous act,” Stoebe said. “This was not an act that was committed in a blink of an eye. This act goes back to the time when you bought that gun.”

Because the voluntary manslaughter charge was a forcible felony, Lewil must serve at least five years of his 10-year sentence. He also must pay $150,000 restitution to Beason’s family. Fines and criminal charges totaling up to nearly $30,000 were suspended due to Lewil’s inability to pay.

“Regardless of the outcome, there’s not a winner in this case,” Baldridge said. “Ms. Beason and her family suffered and continue to suffer from needless gun violence. The defendant and others like him suffer the consequences and the social stigma that these convictions and this behavior places on them. To say this is sad all the way around is not a strong enough statement.”

Lewil will be given credit for time served in connection to these charges.

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