James E. Kemple stood and faced the family of the 18-year-old he shot in the head at a Spokane house party in 2020.
The 23-year-old, wearing yellow Spokane County Jail inmate clothing Friday, started to speak before sitting back down and putting his head in his hands while crying. He stood again and repeatedly apologized through tears for killing Jacquon Bailey, who his family said had a “beautiful smile” and loved basketball and anime.
Spokane County Superior Court Judge John Cooney then sentenced Kemple to 6½ years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Kemple pleaded guilty in September to second-degree manslaughter, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm.
“I know my grief is nothing compared to yours,” Kemple told Bailey’s family members.
Spokane police responded in the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2020 to the shooting at 3312 E. Carlisle Ave., across the Spokane River from Spokane Community College, according to court documents.
Spokane County deputy prosecutor Preston McCollam told The Spokesman-Review Kemple and Ivan Liles got into a conflict with other groups of teens and young adults inside the home. McCollam said members of different gangs were at the party.
McCollam and court documents indicated several conflicting statements from witnesses.
Kemple claimed he fired a warning shot into the ceiling so people would leave him and Liles alone, documents said. He continued to shoot as he ran toward a parked car because he claimed someone was shooting at him, he told police. Kemple said he did not know Bailey and did not target him when he was shooting.
McCollam said Bailey was an “innocent bystander.”
McCollam said Kemple fired a warning shot inside the home, he put the gun away, then there were conflicting statements about whether someone fired from inside the home toward Kemple and Liles as they were leaving the home.
One witness told police Kemple appeared to be shooting from the front yard toward an unidentified person in the doorway of the home. The witness said the person in the doorway was returning fire but appeared to be shooting into the air instead of directly at Kemple.
McCollam said it was clear to him there was another shooter besides Kemple. Police found numerous spent shell casings inside and outside the home, according to documents.
McCollam said the defense would have had a valid self-defense claim if the case went to trial.
Kemple and Liles fled after the shooting and were arrested later that morning. Bailey was taken to the hospital, where he died.
Bailey’s mother, Tekla Alters, his uncle, Joshua Bailey, and his grandmother, Leatrice Berry, addressed the court Friday.
Alters said her son lit up a room, carried a basketball everywhere he went and always left the house looking his best. She said she and her family drove from Seattle to Spokane when they received the call her son had been shot.
Alters said her son was “an innocent soul in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“My heart will forever be broken,” she said.
Berry called the phone call in the middle of the night “gut wrenching.”
Alters, who wore a locket around her neck with her son’s ashes, said two birthdays and two Christmases have gone by without him.
“Our holidays are lonely, as he was the highlight of family gatherings,” Alters said.
Berry and Joshua Bailey said Kemple stripped Jacquon Bailey of the chance of getting married and having children.
“Whenever he would say goodbye, he would whisper in my ear, ‘I love you,’ ” Berry said.
Alters and Joshua Bailey said 6½ years was not enough prison time.
“No amount of jail time will bring my nephew back,” Joshua Bailey said.
Berry asked Kemple to use the years in prison to improve his life.
“You have time to really think about the life you have taken,” Berry said.
She asked Kemple to write a letter of apology to her family, which Cooney ordered Kemple to do.
The 6½ years in prison included the high end of the standard sentencing range, or 41 months, for the manslaughter charge, plus a 25-month exceptional sentence and a 12-month deadly weapon enhancement. Kemple will serve 18 months of community custody, or probation, when he is released from prison.
Liles, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 24.