An Omaha man was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the shooting death of a teenager who happened to be wearing the wrong color.
Angelo Tolbert, 21, fired the shotgun blasts that killed Montrell Wiseman, 16, a South High student and basketball player.
Wiseman's only mistakes that night: Being polite. And wearing red.
Spooked by a circling van, Wiseman was holding the door open as he ushered two friends into the house, witnesses said.
Tolbert slid open a van door and opened fire with a short shotgun, killing Wiseman and severely injuring 16-year-old Desjuha Wilkinson.
Douglas County prosecutors say Wiseman was the unintended target of a vanload of people — including some gang members — looking for someone in red that night.
The reason: They believed a Bloods gang was responsible for the Sept. 15 shooting death of their friend.
So Tolbert, a 40th Avenue gang member, and four others went “hunting” for any Blood gang member in the early morning hours of Oct. 21.
Tolbert's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Scott Sladek, said his client maintains his innocence.
Sladek moved for a new trial, noting that one of the van's passengers had recanted his testimony that Tolbert was the shooter. However, prosecutors said the passenger, Francis Cayou, later withdrew his recantation.
Douglas County District Judge Mark Ashford declined to grant a new trial.
Wiseman's father, Arthur Plunkett, said he was mystified that Tolbert wouldn't acknowledge his actions. Two of the van's passengers identified Tolbert as the shooter. Tolbert also once told a girlfriend that he fired the shots.
“There are no words to explain (our pain),” Plunkett told the judge. “You have to give a person like this (Tolbert) time to think about his mistakes. For him not to acknowledge it — I don't even know what else to say.”
Ashford decried the street violence that claimed a “bright young man.”
Wiseman “carried a family Bible with him,” Ashford said. “He had siblings who looked up to him, sought him out for advice. It's nearly impossible to try to explain murders such as this because they are unexplainable.”
Ten months later, it's still hard to unscramble the actions of the van members.
Angry and drunk, the vanload of people drove to known Bloods gang territory and first tried to shoot at two men in a car. However, Tolbert had the shotgun's safety on, preventing it from firing.
They then spotted Wiseman and two teenage girls wearing red outside a house at 21st and Binney Streets in north Omaha. The teens, who were not gang members, were wearing red because it was a Husker game day.
Suspicious of the minivan circling the block, Wiseman tried to usher the girls into the house.
As Wiseman held the door open, Tolbert popped out of the sliding door of the minivan and opened fire.
Tolbert's short-barrel shotgun was good for nothing but “hunting humans,” as prosecutor Jim Masteller put it.
Arthur Plunkett said classmates and teachers of Wiseman, who would have been a senior this fall, have been wonderful support.
The stiff sentence brings a bit of justice, he said. Ashford added 120 years for weapons and assault convictions on top of Tolbert's automatic life sentence.
The van's driver, Joshua Vanackeren, is awaiting trial. Two others have entered pleas to other charges.
“It's something to show that north Omaha is not going to tolerate this type of thing,” Plunkett said of Tolbert's prison time. “It's a step.”
At the same time, he said, his family is reeling.
“We still have a lot of issues,” he said. “We're putting our lives back together, but it's gonna take time. We're still hurting.”