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Man who fired shot that killed Dejah Joyner sentenced

Jakwan Keller, who admitted firing the shot that

Jakwan Keller, who admitted firing the shot that killed Dejah Joyner, 12, of Hempstead, was sentenced Friday to 5 to 15 years in prison. Credit: Composite: Howard Schnapp, left

Keisha Miles-Joyner dabbed tears and took deep breaths to compose herself Friday as she stared into the eyes of the man who admitted killing her 12-year-old daughter, Dejah Joyner.

As the Mineola courtroom hushed to silence, Miles-Joyner addressed Jakwan Keller — the alleged gang member who fired a bullet into their Hempstead home on a chilly October evening nearly three years ago.

“You intentionally shot that gun and killed my child,” Miles-Joyner said, addressing Keller directly. “She didn’t deserve that. You didn’t have the right.”

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Meryl Berkowitz sentenced Keller, who pleaded guilty in March to second-degree manslaughter, to 5 to 15 years in prison as part of a deal negotiated with Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

In a brief statement Friday just before being sentenced, Keller, 22, took responsibility for his crime.

“If I could take it back I would,” Keller said. “I am sorry for what I’ve done.”

Dejah was eating dinner in her home on Dartmouth Street on Oct. 16, 2015, when a single gunshot blasted through a window, striking her in the head, authorities said.

The seventh-grader, a Girl Scout who loved Hello Kitty, riding her bike and dancing, died a day later while hospitalized.

One by one on Friday, Dejah’s family members took to a microphone, reading victim impact statements and remembering a life ripped away too soon.

Zala Johnson-Rice said her little sister never got to graduate from middle school or attend her prom. She would never drive a car, get a job, fall in love, buy a home or start a family.

“She didn’t do anything wrong to anyone,” Johnson-Rice said. “She was at home where she should have felt safe . . . Our family is no longer complete. We no longer feel safe in our home.”

In a statement, Singas noted how the lives of Dejah’s family “have been forever changed by this horrific tragedy.”

Police have said Keller and Dejah’s older brother belong to different factions of the Bloods gang. Authorities said Keller shot into Dejah’s house from a vehicle because he believed her older brother had stolen a Hoverboard from his younger brother.

A reluctant eyewitness came forward six days after the shooting and identified Keller as the triggerman, according to police testimony at a court hearing last year.

Police arrested Keller in January 2016, saying more than 20 Crime Stoppers tips led to him. A grand jury indicted Keller on second-degree murder and weapons charges.

In March, Keller, who has already spent nearly 2 1⁄2 years in prison, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, waiving his right to appeal as part of the plea deal.

Members of Dejah’s extended family, who wore orange to court Friday to highlight National Gun Violence Awareness Day, said they hold no hatred for Keller and promised to pray for him and his family.

Still, they contend Keller’s sentence was not long enough for extinguishing the life of an innocent child. They said he at least should serve the entire 15-year sentence.

“I pray you do the max because it’s only right,” said Melody Miles-Jenkins, Dejah’s aunt. “She was a 12-year-old girl. Do the 15 — the whole 15.”

Bruce Barket, Keller’s Garden City-based defense attorney, said his client “is truly sorry” for his actions.

“This obviously was not an intentional crime,” Barket said outside court Friday. “So he did the right thing.”

Joyner’s death was a flashpoint for a community, marred by gun violence, that had witnessed too many scenes of heartbreak.

A street near Dejah’s home was renamed in her memory. Violent crime in the village has come slowly down.

And last October, about 50 of Dejah’s fellow Girl Scouts marked the two-year anniversary of her death by releasing balloons into the sky at a memorial service by her Uniondale grave.

Family members said they, too, are trying to return to some sense of normalcy.

Every year, Dejah’s family would take a cruise together. Dejah’s death ended that tradition. But three years later, the summer trip is back on, said Carol Nadine Miles, Dejah’s great-aunt.

“We will get through this,” Miles said. “It’s a struggle. But she is at rest now.”

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