A state appeals court in San Francisco has upheld the murder conviction and sentence of 50 years to life in prison for a Richmond man who was 15 when he fatally shot a high school football star.

Darren Pratcher, now 20, was convicted in Contra Costa County Superior Court in 2006 of the first-degree murder of Terrance Kelly, 18, on Aug. 12, 2004.

Superior Court Judge Laurel Brady sentenced him in 2007 to 50 years to life in prison.
Kelly, who had been a star linebacker at De La Salle High School in Concord, was two days away from going to the University of Oregon on an athletic scholarship when he was killed.

Kelly was sitting in a car outside a house in the so-called Iron Triangle neighborhood of Richmond, waiting to pick up his stepbrother, when he was hit in the head and back with four rifle bullets.

Pratcher’s lawyers argued at his trial that Pratcher believed he was shooting at a different man who had threatened him and that he suffered brain impairment and post-traumatic stress disorder from growing up in a violent neighborhood.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal on Thursday rejected a series of appeal arguments raised by Pratcher, including claims that he should not have been tried as an adult and that his sentence was unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Anthony Kline wrote that while the fact that Pratcher “was only 15 years old at the time of the shooting obviously adds to the already immense tragedy of this case,” the sentence was not disproportionate to the crime.

Kline said there was no evidence that Pratcher was in danger from Kelly and said that “a great deal of preparation went into the crime.”

“This included obtaining a gun, looking for a more powerful gun, and waiting for the victim to appear” in addition to resetting the manual firing mechanism of the rifle between each shot, Kline wrote.

The court noted that the California Supreme Court in 2002 upheld a voter initiative, Proposition 21, that allows prosecutors rather than judges to decide to try youths over the age of 14 as adults for certain serious crimes such as murder.

Pratcher’s lawyer in the appeal, Philip Brooks, was not immediately available for comment on the ruling, which could be appealed to the California Supreme Court.

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