The destruction of two lives could have been avoided if not for a dangerous obsession with guns.
That was the exasperated emphasis of Judge Peter Nugent Friday morning, as he sentenced Darius J. Birk, 23, of Greenwood to 35 years in prison for attempted murder, among other charges.
“What are we going to do with these kids and guns?” Nugent said during the sentencing.
Birk sat in Johnson County Superior Court 2, watching with a sorrowful expression as Nugent handed down the sentence for attempted murder, aggravated battery, pointing a firearm at another and carrying a handgun without a license. Birk had been found guilty of all four charges on March 7 following a week-long trial.
About 20 people sat in the gallery, and as the sentence was read out, Birk’s supporters could be heard sobbing.
Describing his reasoning for the sentence, Nugent said that while he understood Birk’s remorse for the shooting, that could not outweigh the damage it had caused to the victim.
“This is sad across the board. Nobody wins in this trial,” he said.
Birk and the victim were riding together in a van on Park Drive in Greenwood on March 13, 2021, when the victim, who was driving the van, was shot once in the face, according to a probable cause affidavit. Though she survived the shooting, it resulted extensive facial damage and emotional trauma that she is still recovering from today.
The victim delivered a statement during the sentencing hearing, outlining how Birk’s act had shattered her entire life. Her appearance is altered, she can no longer eat or talk the way she did, and she suffers from sleeplessness, anxiety and panic. Loud noises are particularly jarring, which makes playing with her two young children difficult.
“On a daily basis, I’m constantly going through the worst day of my life,” she said. “I’m not me anymore.”
Birk also presented a statement asking for leniency in his sentencing. He expressed his remorse for the shooting, and for his actions the day of the shooting. He accepted responsibility for what he called “my stupid decision to take my firearm that day and the accident it caused.”
Every night, he prays to God that the victim is doing OK, he said.
“She didn’t deserve any of this,” he said.
Birk’s attorney, Andrew Baldwin, asked Nugent to consider his client’s regret about the shooting, as well as their assertion that it had been accidental, when making his sentencing decision.
Deputy prosecutors Brianna Acker and Kayla Keller argued that the damage Birk had done to the victim, combined with previous gun-related offenses, meant that he should get a more severe sentence.
In the end, Nugent agreed with the prosecution’s argument. Birk was sentenced to 35 years for attempted murder, 12 years for aggravated battery, 1 1/2 years for pointing a firearm at another and 1 year for carrying a handgun without a license. The sentences would run concurrently.
“I think this is just a terribly sad tragedy,” Nugent said.