It has been two and a half years since 16-year-old Jeffrey Kennell Jr. was fatally shot roughly a dozen times while standing outside his apartment at Forest Creek.
Kennell's killer, 22-year-old Trenton Newkirk, stood before Circuit Judge Linda Nobles Wednesday to accept his life sentence for murdering the teenager late into the night on Dec. 29, 2020.
"I'm sorry," Nobles said to Kennell's family sitting in the courtroom. "I hope that today brings you some sort of closure.
"I don't want to dredge up any old memories for Mr. Kennell's family, but this murder was horrific," Nobles added. "I am going to adjudicate him guilty ... and I'm going to sentence him to life in prison.
What were Trenton Newkirk's charges?
After Newkirk's arrest in June 2021, an Escambia County grand jury indicted him on first-degree premeditated murder July 2, 2021, which is a capital felony punishable by a minimum of life in prison.
"The grand jurors of the state of Florida ... do present that Trenton Dominic Capri Newkirk, on or about Dec. 29, 2020, at and in Escambia County, Florida, did unlawfully from a premeditated design to effect the death of a human being, kill and murder Jeffrey Marcus Kennell Jr. through the discharge of a firearm," the indictment states.
However, the trial jury did not deem the act was premeditated and convicted Newkirk of second-degree murder, a life felony. The conviction changed Newkirk's mandatory minimum sentence from a life term to a term of 25 years in prison.
Jeffrey Kennell's family speak out
Prior to Newkirk's sentencing, Kennell's aunt Radasia Scott told the court that Newkirk's actions have contributed to "many sleepless nights" within the family.
"My son misses his cousin and wishes he could take him outside to play again," Scott said as she read from her notes. "Every day is a living nightmare for our family."
Kennell's grandmother, Katrina Scott, told the court that her grandson's death is like an amputation — eventually "you learn to live without it but you'll never be the same."
"I thought that I would feel good about sitting here, him being found guilty (and) knowing he's about to go to prison," Katrina said. "I don't. It's still not going to bring Jeff back.
"I want to say, 'Oh, I hate him,' but I can't. I don't hate you," she told Newkirk. "It's not my job to hate. I can't go through life carrying hate."
What did Trenton Newkirk do on Dec. 29, 2020?
Escambia County Sheriff's deputies responded at about 11 p.m. on Dec. 29, 2020, to reports of a shooting at the Forest Creek Apartments located at 34 Patton Drive, according to an arrest report.
The deputies found Kennell lying on the ground in front of an apartment building with several gunshot wounds. He was transported to Baptist Hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries.
Investigators reviewed the apartment complex's security footage and observed that two people had been following Kennell immediately before the shooting, and witnesses helped identify the two individuals as Isaiah Sims and Newkirk, the report stated.
Investigators reported discovering additional evidence tying Newkirk to the shooting when they obtained his cellphone after he was shot in a separate incident.
"On Feb. 7, 2021, Newkirk was the victim in a shooting incident wherein he was shot in the head and transported to the hospital," the report stated. "Newkirk survived his injuries. As a result of this case, Newkirk’s cellphone was seized and downloaded pursuant to a search warrant."
Having secured the cellphone, investigators could track its past movements, including on the night of the shooting that killed Kennell.
"Newkirk’s cell phone GPS location mirrors the movements of the subjects observed on the Warrington Village surveillance video and show that Newkirk is where the homicide occurred at the time of the homicide," according to the report.
Although Sims was charged with first-degree premeditated murder along with Newkirk, the State Attorney announced they would not prosecute the case due to "insufficient evidence to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt," according to court records.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Jeffrey Kennell murder: Trenton Newkirk sentenced to life in prison