A DC Superior Court judge decided he needed more time to determine if he should accept a plea deal for a man convicted in the shooting of a 27-year-old father.
“I think justice is oftentimes an elusive concept,” Judge Milton Lee said.
Several members of Jamal Bandy’s family addressed the court on May 20 during the sentencing hearing. They spoke about the person Bandy was and the life he lived before he was shot to death on July 21, 2019.
“I want him to not just be a number on your case file,” Bandy’s mother told Judge Lee before thanking the prosecuting attorneys for their efforts to pursue justice for her son.
Bandy’s grandmother described him as a soft-spirited young man who “had just started getting his life together.” He recently started a job at a plumbing company and had three children with another on the way.
“When he passed, he never got a chance to see his child born,” Bandy’s father said.
The deadly shooting occurred on the 1300 block of Congress Street, SE, in what prosecutors believe was a revenge-based attack. Romiel Hightower, who was arrested and charged with first-degree murder while armed in Bandy’s death in December 2019, was shot on that same block the year before, according to court documents. Bandy is thought to have been associated with the person suspected of having shot Hightower in 2018.
Bandy’s aunt is a retired police officer who spent 25 years with the Metropolitan Police Department. In her victim impact statement, she referenced the time she has spent with families enduring the type of loss she now has to live with, too.
“We have to stop smacking people on the wrist, and they have to realize that when you pull a trigger, there’s consequences for that,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Bandy’s grandmother. “I know the young man is a human being too, but he needs to realize what he did and what he took away from us…these kids today, they have to start being accountable for what they do,” she said.
Hightower, 30, accepted a plea offer for voluntary manslaughter while armed in February. As part of the deal, parties agreed to recommend a six-and-a-quarter-year prison sentence. Judge Lee asked the prosecutor why he agreed to this.
The prosecutor said much of the evidence they had was circumstantial. Witnesses either did not cooperate or did not see much since they ran when they heard the gunfire. Their primary evidence was a white vehicle seen in surveillance footage that was connected to Hightower’s girlfriend. Instagram messages from Hightower also suggested an intention to retaliate, according to court documents.
“No one is trying to value Mr. Bandy’s life at a number,” defense attorney Jason Tulley said.
Judge Lee remained unconvinced.
“I’m disappointed that I learned so much about the background today…I cannot say in good conscious at this point that six-and-a-quarter years is a correct sentence,” he said.
Judge Lee said he needs more time to decide if he will accept the plea deal. He scheduled parties to reconvene on June 21.