Teenager Faces Term Of 27 Years Shooting ‘Like A Gang Initiation,’ Prosecutor Says
“Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em!”
Sixteen-year-old Nathan Witherspoon cradled a sawed-off shotgun on a summer night as friends dared him to shoot teenagers gathered in a north Spokane parking lot.
The friends goaded the young gunman to prove himself as a gangster.
“Crips!” they shouted.
Witherspoon obliged by squeezing the trigger. Now he faces more than 27 years in prison.
A Spokane County jury late Thursday found him guilty of first-degree assault for shooting a girl in the face, and seven counts of second-degree assault for pointing the shotgun at others.
“It was almost like a gang initiation,” said Deputy Prosecutor Dave Hearrean.
The random violence illustrates what Spokane police have been saying for years: Gang members, increasingly armed with guns, are a public menace.
The shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. July 8 outside the Northpointe Taco Bell, a popular teen hangout.
Fifteen-year-old Shelly Morgan was shot in the face.
The Spokane Valley softball standout was sitting in the back seat of a car and did nothing to provoke the attack, police said.
Morgan survived the blast, but lost her left eye. She has gone through four surgeries so far to remove some of the 16 pellets buried in her flesh.
This week, her detailed, emotional testimony drew a packed courtroom and left many in tears, including several jurors.
“It happened for no reason,” she said afterward.
The jury reached its verdicts in less than two hours, rejecting Witherspoon’s claim that he didn’t intend to harm anyone and was merely showing off.
“This is sending a message to violent gang members that Spokane will hold them responsible for their acts, and they’re going to spend almost all their lives in prison,” said Hearrean, who was assisted by Deputy Prosecutor Steve Kinn.
“It’s a start,” said the victim’s mother, Robyn Morgan. “I’m hoping other parents will start paying attention (to gang violence). We just can’t keep hiding from it and say it won’t affect us.”
Witherspoon, prosecuted as an adult, is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 8 in Superior Court.
Two of his gang-member friends are awaiting sentencing for second-degree assault as accomplices.
Hearrean credits the convictions to new gang-prosecution efforts, which helped convince fearful teenagers to testify.
Police said Witherspoon has a history of gang involvement in Spokane.
He has 12 prior arrests as a juvenile, including two for being in possession of firearms, records show. Until now, he had no convictions for serious or violent offenses.