Judge says video showed sadistic side
On Thursday, Abramson sentenced Bangs - who pleaded guilty in mid-trial to kidnapping, first-degree assault, criminal threatening and witness-tampering - to a minimum of 17 years in prison.
Bangs and his co-defendant, Yvens Luclaise, 26, lured the teen to Bangs' apartment July 14, 2011, made him strip naked, burned him on the arms with a knife heated over a lighter, dripped hot melted rubber from a glove on his abdomen, stuffed paper up his nostrils and lighted it, glued his lips together and threatened him with a meat cleaver.
It was payback for being "a snitch," which required the return of shoplifted items to a mall store. Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Karen Gorham said Bangs told the teen "this is ruining my swag."
She said Bangs intended to make the victim "pay." On the video, she said, the victim looks at the camera and asks: "Is he trying to kill me?"
As the torture continued, she said: "The music would get louder and louder when (the victim) screamed." After repeatedly turning up the music, Bangs' eventual solution was to glue the victim's lips together to mute the screaming.
Gorham dismissed the defense report by a doctor who did a psychological evaluation of Bangs. Gorham said the doctor watched the torture video, but described it only as a "defendant engaged in negative behavior."
Defense attorney Roger Chadwick acknowledged the video "riles up our emotions," but sought to downplay the seriousness of the victim's injuries, saying he was discharged from the hospital after his lips were unglued.
"The only thing he walked away with were the burns," said Chadwick, who said an eight-year sentence was appropriate.
Abramson refused Chadwick's request to present a clip of the "Blood Diamonds" movie, to show what life was like in war-torn Sierra Leone, where Bangs and his mother and baby sister fled from Liberia. They came to the United States as refugees in June 2004.
Bangs' mother testified about her efforts to survive the Sierra Leone fighting, with her 1-year-old daughter on her back and 3-year-old Ishmael holding her hand as they sought to escape the violence. She said her son suffered a leg wound as they tried to make their way to safety.
"My son is not a bad person," she said in the testimony punctuated by tears and sobs. "Kids just make bad decisions."
Gorham questioned her about Bangs' problems in school, starting five months after his arrival in this country.
Gorham said there were 212 times that Bangs was cited for breaking rules, using vulgar language, punching holes in school bus seats, causing damage and other issues that brought his mother to school frequently as the school system sought to teach Bangs how to follow the rules.
Chadwick said what Bangs saw and experienced in Sierra Leone affected his behavior.
"He couldn't see through his filter that it was inappropriate," said Chadwick.
Bangs himself asked Abramson for "a second chance."
He said: "I don't think there's anybody more disappointed in me than myself ... I'd like to see my daughter grow up."
Abramson said that when people come to this country from places where violence is normal, we hold them to the same laws and behaviors that we expect of ourselves. Otherwise, she said, the United States would become like the countries the refugees flee.
Abramson told Bangs that in addition to the torture victim, he has hurt his mother, who had high hopes for him. "She is also your victim," said Abramson.
The torture victim and his family did not appear at the sentencing, sending a text message read by Gorham that said the family is moving on with their lives.
Bangs was sentenced to 3 1/2 to seven years for kidnapping, consecutive sentences of 3 1/2 to seven years on each of three criminal threatening charges, a concurrent 3 1/2 to seven years for witness tampering, and a consecutive 3 1/2 to 15 years for first degree assault. A six-month sentence on a probation violation is concurrent. Bangs, who has been held since his arrest, is given credit for 574 days of pre-trial credit.
Bangs' co-defendant, Luclaise, 26, was convicted a year ago and is serving a minimum of 10 1/2 years in prison for his part in the July 14, 2011, kidnap and torture.