Man escapes life imprisonment for Madera County robbery, receives 15 years

MADERA, Calif. (KFSN) -- A business owner's deadly response to robbery put the surviving suspect in court on murder charges. But Monday, a punishment fell far short of life in prison.

Prosecutors charged Jonte Harris with the murder of his partner-in-crime, but eventually they decided the charge would never stick since the business owner actually fired the deadly shot

Harris looked on without expression as a judge announced his punishment Monday. Fifteen years in prison may not seem like much to a man who was facing life, but his sentence could've been even less except for his street connections.

"It's another example of gang cases in Madera, and this year we've declared war on the gangs. We're going to take them down."

Linn says law enforcement officers in Madera County are noticing an influx of Fresno gang members, so they're cracking down. Harris got an extra five years in prison because of his gang ties. He and Aquilla Bailey were Fresno gang members together and partners in at least two previous felony convictions. In January 2013, they committed their last crime together, several miles north of home at a Madera pharmacy.

"They didn't make any demands. They simply started shooting. They came to kill us and they probably would've killed us and then just stayed here all night," said Bryan Lee, Robbery Victim.

Pharmacy owner Lee said he thought he and his mother were going to die that night. She was actually shot in the leg, but Lee is a military veteran and had a gun of his own. He shot back and killed Bailey, then re-opened the next day. The DA said Lee did the right thing to defend his life, and his mother's.

"If a person owns a business in a high crime area, it's important they be licensed and carry a firearm," said Linn.

Harris ran away from the shooting and claimed he never planned for anyone to get shot.

He admitted to assault and his gang affiliation to avoid a possible trial on murder charges.

The 15-year punishment is the longest in his long history of crime.
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