“Everyday I’ve been forced to walk around with a hole in my heart,” said Lora Schoonover, mother of victim Jason Ian Price. “This was never about vengeance or hate, always justice.”

PANAMA CITY — An Alabama man who brought an AK-47 on his trip to Panama City Beach will be remaining in Florida for the rest of his life for shooting and killing a 16-year-old Arnold High School student who had come to the aid of a friend during an attempted robbery.

Demarcus Montrel Giddens, 22, was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without a chance for parole. He and two friends — Gertavious Montrez Canada, 25, and Rodney Racquez Jones, 19 — were arrested after authorities arrived Aug. 20, 2017, to the CVS at 7112 U.S. 98 to find Jason Ian Price had been shot almost point blank in the chest with a Draco AK-47 during an attempted robbery for marijuana. Giddens was convicted last week of first-degree felony murder with a firearm and attempted robbery with a deadly weapon, for which Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet sentenced him to life in prison.

 

Lora Schoonover, mother of Price, gave an emotional speech before Giddens’ sentencing. With her husband, Ryan, and her younger son, Cameron Price, on either side of her, she told the court of Ian Price’s kindness and generosity.

“He was always willing to help anyone in need, and that’s exactly what he did until his dying breath — protect, choosing selflessness and love,” Schoonover said, turning to address Giddens directly. “If that would’ve been you or any of those other young men that Ian saw in trouble, even though he didn’t know you, he would’ve tried to help you. It wasn’t about having to know someone deeply, it was about knowing someone was in need.”

Giddens, who seemed jovial and was smiling when he entered the court, did not look at Schoonover during any of her testimony. At the end, Giddens gave a brief statement.

“I just want to say I’m sorry for the family’s loss,” he said.

After Overstreet sentenced Giddens, Schoonover said she was satisfied with the punishment. She added that she was conflicted by Giddens’ apology.

“I have mixed emotions,” Schoonover said. “I appreciate it, but I don’t know if that was from his heart. I just hope that is how he feels.”

During Giddens’ trial, the prosecution laid out the case that Giddens and company had taken the four-hour drive from Auburn, Alabama, to Panama City Beach with the intention of robbery. They ran into a group of local high school students at a nearby Taco Bell and arranged to buy an ounce of marijuana from their source. Price’s role was as a driver for the marijuana dealer, 17-year-old John Pyle, and he remained behind in his truck until he saw the deal was going bad.

Giddens conceded that he killed Price, and took the stand on the final day of his trial in an attempt to persuade the jury that he shot Price in self-defense. He called Price “the said victim” during his testimony and claimed that a physical fight escalated to a struggle over the AK-47 and ended in gunfire.

“He approaches me in a very, very hostile manner — did nothing to slow down,” Giddens told the jury. “He’s fixing to literally take the gun out of my hand. It’s survival, period. Survive and stay alive.”

Both of Giddens’ friends testified otherwise, though, and received lighter sentences for their testimony.

Canada told the jury there was no physical fight happening when he watched Giddens abruptly draw the AK-47 from a book bag and demand the marijuana from Pyle. Canada said he did not stick around for the gunfire to start.

“Everybody was talking at once ... and he was like ‘give the s*** up,’ ” Canada told the jury. “As soon as I heard that gun cock, I ran because I was scared.”

Jones additionally told the jury that Giddens had unveiled his plot to rob the group of teens beforehand. As they fled the scene and went to change clothes, Giddens showed no remorse when asked why he shot Price for coming to the aid of his friend, Jones said.

“He looked at me and said ‘f*** that n*****, bro,’ ” Jones told the jury. “I told him he was tripping.”

Since Giddens and the others had a disagreement with their ride from Alabama in the hours before the shooting, they could not immediately leave the state. They were arrested later that night while waiting at a nearby hotel for a ride home.

Canada was sentenced Monday to four years in prison and Jones was sentenced to 15 years.

Giddens’ family was not in court during his sentencing. Canada’s family was there to see the sentencing of the man who also cost them the next four years of their relative’s life.

Schoonover said she and her family regularly drive past the CVS parking lot where Price was slain. She said Giddens’ actions not only deprived her family of Price but also of the others involved of years with their loved ones. Schoonover said the sentence came as relief to her but the heartache of losing her eldest son lingers on.

“Every day I’ve been forced to walk around with a hole in my heart,” she said. “However, I refuse to allow that hole to be filled with hate. This was never about vengeance or hate, always justice. … This is going to be a hard journey for us all. But this is a step toward closure, although nothing will ever bring Ian back.”