- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

POWHATAN, Va. | A Powhatan County judge gave two young cousins the maximum sentence possible Thursday for killing a high school athlete, but he and the victim’s family said it was not enough.

Joseph Parrish Jr., 18, was sentenced to 16 years and his cousin Ethan Parrish, 25, to 11 years for the June 2008 shooting death of Tahliek Taliaferro and the wounding of another teen.

The Parrishes originally were charged with first-degree murder, and the verdict in March on reduced charges sparked protests from the families and community members who said race played a role in the decision. Mr. Taliaferro was black; the Parrishes are white. Eleven of the jurors were white; one was black.

Powhatan Circuit Judge Thomas V. Warren said he thought the Parrishes deserved a harsher punishment but that he was limited because of the jury’s finding. In Virginia, judges are barred from going above the jury’s recommended sentence.

“I can’t restore life. I can’t heal injuries,” Judge Warren said. “I can’t try this case all over again if I don’t agree with the jury.”

Judge Warren said he thought the involuntary manslaughter verdict would have been more appropriate for someone who ran a stop sign and killed a pedestrian or a hunter who accidentally shot his friend in the woods.

Joseph Parrish, who was 17 at the time of the shooting, did not fire a shot in the June 24 incident, but he received more time than his cousin because he also was convicted of possession of a firearm by a felon. Both men had lengthy criminal records, mostly including drug and alcohol charges and other minor crimes.

There was a running feud between Joseph Parrish and Mr. Taliaferro, and Parrish picked a fight the night of the killing with the all-area linebacker on Powhatan High School’s football team. The cousins were passengers in a car that drove by Mr. Taliaferro, and Joseph Parrish told him to follow the car so that they could fight. Joseph Parrish told his cousin that Mr. Taliaferro’s friends likely were armed, so Ethan Parrish loaded his assault rifle and told the driver to pull over.

When the car Mr. Taliaferro was riding in pulled up beside them, someone in it pointed a weapon at the Parrish vehicle. Police later found a BB gun resembling a 9 mm handgun in the car.

Stephanie Reynolds, the driver of the Parrish car, was originally charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and last week was set free.

Both victims’ families said they believe all three would have gotten more time if they had been black and the victims were white. Mr. Taliaferro’s mother, Kaa Caputo, said she would continue to seek justice. “It does not stop here today just because [Judge Warren] gave them the terms he did,” she said. “I’m still going to fight for my baby.”

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