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Man gets 45 years after girl slain while getting a snack in her Old East Dallas home

Prosecutors said Davonte Benton and Tyrese Simmons targeted the wrong apartment and killed 9-year-old Brandoniya Bennett a week before school began in 2019.

Cierra Cotton perform
Cierra Cotton performs a praise dance during the funeral for 9-year-old Brandoniya Bennett at the New Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Bennett was shot and killed inside her Old East Dallas apartment the week before before. A man involved in her slaying was sentenced to 45 years in prison Monday.(Lynda M. Gonzalez / Staff Photographer)

By Krista M. Torralva

Sontravia Elder puts on a facade every day since her 9-year-old daughter was shot and killed three years ago in their apartment.

She has to appear strong for her other children, she told jurors during the murder trial for Davonte Benton. Even if she doesn’t feel that way.

“But I’m damaged to my core,” Elder said in a hushed voice, muffled from crying. She gripped a wet, crinkled tissue.

Benton was sentenced Monday to 45 years in prison for his role in Brandoniya Bennett’s slaying in August 2019. The girl was killed as she walked from the kitchen after she fetched a snack while she watched TV.

Dallas police said the shooting stemmed from a feud on social media between another man, Tyrese Simmons, and someone who lived in the same complex as Brandoniya and her family. Police said Simmons shot into the home after mistaking it for his rival’s. Five bullets pierced the family’s apartment where more children were.

The sameDallas County jury that sentenced Benton, 22, also convicted himof murder and fined him $10,000.

Benton was seen in surveillance footage around the time of the shooting running through Brandoniya’s Old East Dallas apartment complex with Simmons.

Brandoniya’s murder sparked citywide outcries for peace. Mayor Eric Johnson attended the child’s funeral and vowed to make Dallas as safe as “humanly possible.” Police initially said Brandoniya was shot while on the couch watching TV.

Elder said she’s never fully present anymore. A part of her is always on the apartment floor holding Brandoniya as blood seeps from her head. Elder differentiates herself as the mother she was before Brandoniya was killed and the mother she is after. But she doesn’t want her kids to notice.

“I have to act like it doesn’t affect me as much as it does,” Elder said.

Davonte Benton
Davonte Benton, 19, sits at the courtroom at Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. Benton was convicted Thursday of killing 9-year-old Brandoniya Bennett. She was slain in August 2019 when Benton, who’d been feuding with a fellow rapper, shot into the wrong apartment in Old East Dallas, killing her as she sat on the couch watching TV.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Police initially said Brandoniya was shot while on the couch watching TV.

Jurors saw video footage from Dallas police officer Ryan Lowman’s body camera that showed Brandoniya’s limp body lifted into an ambulance. Lowman then stared inside the back of his squad car where Brandoniya lay while he rushed her toward help. After a few seconds, he walked toward a playground and cursed. He took deep breaths, cleared his throat and grunted as he walked around the yellow slide.

Lowman, a former Marine who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Brandoniya’s murder was “absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever experienced or seen in my life.”

“I think about this incident daily, daily, and I’ll think about it for the rest of my life,” Lowman said.

Defense lawyers Lalon “Clipper” Peale and Jeff Boncek asked the jury for mercy because, they said, Benton was not the shooter. They also pointed to his childhood spent bouncing between homes. Benton’s mother testified his father abused him.

Simmons’ case is still pending.

“Would it be any different if Davonte was not involved?” Boncek said. “The sad answer is, ‘No, it wouldn’t be different.’”

But prosecutors Christy Harris and Stephanie Fargo argued Benton abused mercy he received from Collin County prosecutors two days before the shooting Aug. 14, 2019. Benton pleaded guilty on Aug. 12, 2019, to two aggravated robbery charges in exchange for a type of probation that would’ve allowed him to avoid a first-degree felony conviction if he stayed out of trouble, Harris said. Benton held someone at gunpoint in those cases, Harris said. She asked jurors to sentence Benton to life in prison.

Tyrese Simmons
Tyrese Simmons, 19, faces a capital murder charge in Brandoniya Bennett’s death.(Dallas County Jail)

“When someone shows you who they are, you should believe them the first time,” Harris said.

Brandoniya’s aunt, Ashton Elder, extended forgiveness to Benton after jurors decided his punishment. She addressed Benton in a victim impact statement and said she believes he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she hopes he reflects on his part in the crime.

“We forgive you for the most part,” Ashton Elder said.

Benton nodded and looked toward the ground.

Brandoniya Bennett
Brandoniya Bennett would have started fourth grade Monday.(Bennett family)

Brandoniya, who was set to start school the following week at Cesar Chavez Learning Center, was popular with her teachers and classmates, said Kelly Brennion, who was an assistant principal at the time. Brandoniya liked to help her teachers and was known to skip PE – a class most kids look forward to – to work on tasks in the classroom, Brennion told jurors.

“Brandoniya was effervescent,” Brennion said. “She was bubbly and she was sparkly. She was a very happy young girl that had a lot of friends.”

Brandoniya’s mother hugged Brennion after her testimony.

“We don’t forget her,” Brennion said.

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