A New York City judge has sentenced a former Wake Forest University assistant basketball coach to three years of probation with no jail time in the one-punch death of a tourist from Florida.
Jamill C. Jones, 37, was sentenced on Thursday for third-degree assault in the August 2018 homicide of 35-year-old Sandor Szabo in Queens. He had faced a maximum of one year in jail.
Judge Joanne B. Watters explained in her ruling that a jail sentence would ‘would only serve to punish Mr. Jones,’ adding ‘it is my opinion that Mr. Jones is repentant.’
Watters cited the ‘the positive impact Mr Jones has had on his community,’ which according to his attorney, Eric Renfroe, included mentoring young black girls without fathers.
The ruling came as a shock to Szabo’s family, including his mother Donna Kent, who delivered a stirring, tearful impact statement at the sentencing hearing, which was conducted over video-conference after months of delays due to the pandemic.
‘He will always be a murderer, a coward,’ Kent said in the statement. ‘No parent should ever have to endure this kind of torture.’
Jamill C. Jones, 37, (left after the verdict) was found guilty on Thursday of third-degree assault in the August 2018 homicide of 35-year-old Sandor Szabo (right)
The ruling came as a shock to Szabo’s family, including his mother Donna Kent (center at trial), who delivered a stirring, tearful impact statement at the sentencing hearing
Current New York laws only allow misdemeanor assault charges in single-blow cases where prosecutors are merely able to show an intent to injure, rather than an intent to kill.
Kent, as well as District Attorney Kirk A. Sendlein, who prosecuted the case, had both asked Watters to impose the maximum possible sentence of one year in jail, citing the fact that a homicide was being charged as a misdemeanor
Watters acknowledged that it was an ‘an unusual case’ when delivering her sentencing verdict. In addition to probation, she sentenced Jones to 1,500 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine.
The sentence marks an unsatisfying conclusion for Sazbo’s mother and other family members, who have trekked to New York City for over a dozen hearings, as well as the jury trial that concluded in February.
The tragic case unfolded nearly two years ago, on what should have been a day of celebration for the victim’s family.
Szabo was a digital marketing executive who was visiting New York City from Florida for his sister’s wedding when he was killed around 1.40am on August 5, 2018.
Szabo was a digital marketing executive who was visiting New York City from Florida for his sister’s wedding when he was killed around 1.40am on August 5, 2018
The altercation between Szabo and Jones, who had never met, took place in Long Island City, where Szabo was leaving the wedding, and may have believed that the SUV Jones was in was an Uber he had requested.
At trial, Jones took the stand and broke down as he described the confrontation, which he portrayed as a case of self-defense.
‘I’ve never been arrested prior to this case,’ Jones told the jury, according to PIX 11. ‘I’ve never had a drink in my life.’
Jones testified that he was riding in his girlfriend’s SUV when someone bashed in the rear window of the vehicle.
‘The next thing you heard was a loud, ‘boom!’ and the rear windshield started to fall in,’ Jones told the jury. He said he leaped out, confronting Szabo.
The girlfriend was never located by prosecutors or called to testify, and her SUV was never examined by police.
Jones is seen during the trial, where he broke down on the stand as he testified
Surveillance video also caught Jone’s SVU speeding away from the scene of the attack
Jones delivered a photo of a vehicle with a smashed rear window to police four days after the incident, but Szabo’s family contend that the window was not damaged in Queens.
At the sentencing hearing, Szabo’s brother Dominik Szabo scoffed at the notion that his sibling had smashed Jones’ window, noting that his brother’s hands were completely unscratched as he laying dying in a coma while hospitalized.
Jones admitted chasing Sandor Szabo and punching him in the face near the opposite corner of the street, even as Szabo appeared to be backing up.
Jones said Szabo had his fists clenched and was raising his left hand. He said he wanted to defend his girlfriend back in the SUV.
‘When I see the girl and her face was in her lap and I see him on the passenger side, I said ‘I’m going to put myself between him and whatever comes that way,’ Jones testified.
Szabo fell to the ground where his head hit the pavement, and he lost consciousness, prosecutors said.
Jones and his girlfriend fled the scene, and it emerged at trial that hours later he called the girlfriend’s cousin, an NYPD detective, who advised him to turn himself in.
Instead, Jones fled the state, and only surrendered four days later, after the NYPD released surveillance video showing him at the scene.
Szabo was vice president for sales at What If Media Group, a digital media company
Szabo’s mother Donna Kent (above) has been dedicated to justice in the case, making trips to New York City from her home in North Carolina for every court appearance
Brought to a local hospital in critical condition, Szabo was pronounced dead, but was kept on life support for a day so that his organs could be donated.
The New York City medical examiner ruled that Szabo’s death was the result of a homicide, listing the official cause of death as ‘blunt impact injury of the head with brain injury’.
At trial, the New Jersey man who received Szabo’s heart came to court to show support for Szabo’s mother, Donna Kent.
‘The defendant could have driven away from the scene or call 911. Instead, he retaliated by getting out of his car and punching the victim,’ Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz said in a statement. ‘This was a death that could have been avoided, sparing the victim’s family the loss of a loved one.’
Jones resigned from his coaching position at Wake Forrest in April of last year, after spending eight months on administrative leave.
Szabo was vice president for sales at What If Media Group, a digital media company.
‘He was always upbeat, positive, kind and caring,’ the company said in a Facebook post. ‘He was fun to be with, interesting, and always interested. He was a really good person.’