Tacoma teen avoids murder charge in Hilltop shooting that killed 14-year-old girl

A teenager pleaded guilty Friday to manslaughter and assault for shooting at a car full of young people in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, killing 14-year-old Iyana Ussery and endangering others close to the gunfire.

Christopher Anthony P. Felizardo was 17 years old when he and Jeremiah Anthony Greg Averitt were accused of firing 28 rounds at a Dodge Magnum occupied by six people crossing South 19th Street on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. According to court records, bullets also struck an ambulance occupied by two workers and Ezell’s Chicken, sending customers fleeing for cover.

The defendants, both now 19, were charged as adults in Pierce County Superior Court due to their age at the time of the July 6, 2022 shooting and the severity of their charges. Averitt’s case remains pending with a trial-readiness status hearing set for Aug. 20.

Felizardo pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault. Prosecutors originally charged him with second-degree murder, eight counts of first-degree assault, drive-by shooting and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

Christopher Anthony P Felizardo, 19, pleads guilty to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault in the July 6, 2022 murder of 14-year-old Iyana Ussery at Pierce County Superior Court on Friday, July 5, 2024, in Tacoma, Wash.Christopher Anthony P Felizardo, 19, pleads guilty to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault in the July 6, 2022 murder of 14-year-old Iyana Ussery at Pierce County Superior Court on Friday, July 5, 2024, in Tacoma, Wash.

Christopher Anthony P Felizardo, 19, pleads guilty to first-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault in the July 6, 2022 murder of 14-year-old Iyana Ussery at Pierce County Superior Court on Friday, July 5, 2024, in Tacoma, Wash.

The victim’s mother, Kelsey Ussery, told The News Tribune the change in charges felt like a slap in the face. She said prosecutors informed her via email Wednesday that charges would be amended, giving her little time before the July 4 holiday to voice her disagreement.

“It’s an injustice,” Kelsey Ussery said. “These boys got out of the car in broad daylight and shot my car up 27 times. And for the prosecutors to even offer such a plea deal like this is just disrespectful.”

The mother said she was told a key witness to her daughter’s death died in a separate incident, and that was part of the reason charges were lowered from murder to manslaughter. That witness was De’Layah Sims, a 17-year-old girl who was fatally shot in Tacoma in April, allegedly by her boyfriend.

Felizardo’s guilty pleas also came with an agreement with the state. Deputy prosecuting attorney Matthew Thomas said in court that the state doesn’t intend on calling him to testify in his co-defendant’s trial, but if the defense calls him to testify, the plea agreement requires that he testify truthfully.

If he does, according to a spokesperson for the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, prosecutors will ask that one of Felizardo’s second-degree assault charges be dropped at sentencing.

Iyana Ussery is pictured in January 2022.Iyana Ussery is pictured in January 2022.

Iyana Ussery is pictured in January 2022.

A sentencing date was set for Oct. 18. Prosecutors will recommend that he be sentenced to 119 months, just under 10 years in the state’s custody, the prosecuting attorney’s office’s spokesperson said. In Washington, young people sentenced for crimes committed before they are 18 go to juvenile rehabilitation in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Prosecutors have said the shooting might have been gang-related. Police said they suspected the shooting was targeted, but at the time it was unclear who that target was. According to charging documents, a victim told police that Averitt and a boy in the car had been feuding because of rival gang membership.

Ussery, the oldest of three siblings, was with friends on her way to get snacks at a convenience store when the car she was a passenger in was fired upon at about 11:35 a.m., court records state. Ussery was shot on the right side of her torso, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hundreds of people gathered for a peace march the day after Ussery’s death to support her family and call for an end to gun violence. The shooting came in the middle of the deadliest year on record for Tacoma, with 45 homicides recorded, according to previous reporting from The News Tribune. State crime records that date back to 1980 show the closest the city has come to matching those grim records was in 1988, 1994 and 2020, when the city had 33 homicides.

Kelsey Ussery, center-right, grieves as she is followed by hundreds of people during a peace walk in the memory of Ussery’s daughter, Iyana, on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Tacoma, Wash. Iyana Ussery was shot and killed on Wednesday, July 6, 2022.Kelsey Ussery, center-right, grieves as she is followed by hundreds of people during a peace walk in the memory of Ussery’s daughter, Iyana, on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Tacoma, Wash. Iyana Ussery was shot and killed on Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

Kelsey Ussery, center-right, grieves as she is followed by hundreds of people during a peace walk in the memory of Ussery’s daughter, Iyana, on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Tacoma, Wash. Iyana Ussery was shot and killed on Wednesday, July 6, 2022.

In the days after the deadly shooting, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards said in an issued statement that the deadly shooting had left her furious, and Police Chief Avery Moore said his department wouldn’t rest as it pursued safety and security for Tacoma.

At the County-City Building on Friday in downtown Tacoma, at least 35 people filled the seating area of a second-floor courtroom, including relatives and friends of both the victim and defendant’s families.

Felizardo entered the courtroom unrestrained and wearing a gray and pink jail uniform. He said little during the hearing except to answer standard questions about his plea from Judge Bryan Chushcoff. Felizardo and his co-defendant have remained in custody on $1 million bail for nearly two years while the case has pended. After pleading guilty Friday, Felizardo was placed on a no-bail hold.

The defendant’s attorney from the Department of Assigned Counsel, Peter Reich, declined to comment after court adjourned.

Outside the building, Kelsey Ussery told The News Tribune she felt let down by the justice system. She said the last two years have been “hell” for her and her family. She has two sons, now ages 3 and 7, and she said the older had to be taken out of school and is still going through speech therapy because of the trauma they all felt from the shooting.

Iyana Ussery was like a second mom to her sons, Kelsey Ussery said, and she was a “guardian angel” to her. With her daughter gone, she said it feels like there’s a “dark cloud” over her.

Dai’ja Sims, 15, was a close friend of the victim, who was known to some as Yana. She said Iyana Ussery was the sunshine in anyone’s day. She was also upset by the outcome of Friday’s plea hearing. She said it felt like they weren’t getting any justice.

“He still gets to live his whole life. Yana doesn’t get to live her life no more. Yana has to be under the ground.”

Kelsey Ussery said she plans to attend Averitt’s trial, which prosecutors said is expected to begin sometime in September. The mother said she also hopes to bring pressure to Felizardo’s sentencing hearing. She said she’s praying that the sentencing judge uses his or her discretion to impose a longer punishment.

“We’re giving them child time,” Kelsey Ussery said.

At the least, she said, she hopes Felizardo is sentenced to 14 years, the same amount of time her daughter had on Earth.

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