Kimonti Carter is growing old behind bars.
Housed at the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen, Carter is serving life without parole for a fatal drive-by shooting on Tacoma’s Hilltop in 1997.
Then a Bloods gang member, Carter and four others left a known drug house with the stated intent of “doing a jack,” according to court records.
Armed with a MAK-90 assault rifle, the crew piled into a vehicle and made it just a few blocks before Carter unloaded at least 19 bullets into what he believed to be a car full of rival gang members.
He was wrong.
Instead, the 7.62 caliber rounds tore through a car full of innocent teenagers — killing one of them.
At the time of the crime, Carter was just 18 years old.
In a statement last week, state Rep. Tarra Simmons (D-Bremerton) said understanding Carter’s case is key to understanding why she brought forth House Bill 1692 ahead of the 2022 legislative session. The controversial proposal would remove drive-by shootings from a list of aggravating factors that result in an automatic life sentence for first-degree murder. It would also be retroactive.
According to Simmons, Carter is the only person in Washington state ever sentenced to life without parole under that element of the law — a law she believes was created to target gangs whose members were predominantly young Black men.
“I believe in a society that believes in the power of redemption,” wrote Simmons, who is herself a formerly incarcerated person. “Murder is murder no matter where the bullet comes from, but locking young people up and throwing away the key is not the answer. To speak about this law without speaking about the only person it has ever been used on is to tell only part of the story.”
Allow me to offer an alternative viewpoint.
To speak about this law without speaking about the life that Carter took is also telling only part of the story.
Corey Pittman was just 19 years old when Carter murdered him; unprovoked and in cold blood. He too was a young Black man with his entire life ahead of him.
At the time, Corey was home on summer break from Alabama State University, where he was studying political science.
“He wanted to be a lawyer,” his brother Damian told me in a recent interview.
A graduate of Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, Corey was a standout with a passion for social-justice issues. He served as president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Club, senior class treasurer and was chosen as both homecoming king and Afro King at the school’s African-American Pageant.
In his high school yearbook, under “Dreams and Goals,” Corey wrote “be active in my community and in my nation.”
“Corey was, by all measures, the kind of person that this city looks to for its future leaders,” then-Tacoma Mayor Brian Ebersole told a gathering of more than 800 mourners at First United Methodist Church just days after Corey’s death.
“Instead, his hopes will be buried with him.”
Despite the more than two decades that have passed since his big brother’s murder, Damian still struggles with the loss.
Holding back tears, Damian, now 42, read a statement he delivered to the court back in 1998 as a grieving 18-year-old.
“So much was taken away from me in one night. I still have dreams that my brother is still alive and when I wake up and realize it was all a dream, I just feel like crying until I can’t cry anymore.”
To Damian, House Bill 1692 is unconscionable.
“What constitutes a life sentence these days if not a drive-by shooting? If not a premeditated murder?”
His message to lawmakers should the proposal make it to a vote?
“Unequivocally — don’t approve it.”
What of the argument that Kimonti Carter has turned his life around behind bars?
Carter started TEACH (Taking Education and Creating History), a program that helps inmates earn college credits through courses taught by other inmates. In 2020, Carter was featured in a documentary called “Since I Been Down,” produced by a professor at The Evergreen State College, who called Carter a “brilliant mind.”
“Maybe he did change for the better,” Damian said of his brother’s killer. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be in prison. I’m not the same person I was at 18, but I also never killed anybody.”