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Teens plead guilty to armed robbery
Long prison terms required by law
Dion McClam
Dion McClam

Trials by fire

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Three teenagers who robbed a Gainesville cab driver of $32 at gunpoint were each sentenced to more than 11 years in prison Wednesday as emotional family members looked on.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Jason Deal noted that Georgia law required him to impose mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years to serve in prison without parole after the defendants pleaded guilty to armed robbery.

Darius McClam, 16, and his 17-year-old brother Dion McClam, both of Norcross, were staying with their 16-year-old cousin Christopher McClam at the Lake Forest apartments on Otilla Drive on April 8 when they robbed a driver for Taxi del Norte. Gainesville police quickly identified the teens as suspects after a tracking dog led them to the complex.

Darius and Christopher McClam each used loaded handguns while Dion McClam used a Taser. The cab driver was struck in the head after he was slow to respond to demands for money, and told authorities he heard the cocking of a gun and someone saying "kill him."

"He was concerned that was the last statement he would ever hear, and we are grateful that it was not," District Attorney Lee Darragh told the judge.

The two 16-year-olds were charged as adults.

Christopher McClam was on the Gainesville High School football team roster as a ninth-grader in 2007. Head football coach Bruce Miller wrote a letter to the judge on his behalf, saying he believed the teen did not have enough guidance during a critical time in his life.

Public defender Ari Mathe showed the judge a few of the
trophies the McClam brothers won as football players in Norcross, saying, "these are young men who won’t get to win trophies like this for at least 10 years."

All three teens apologized to the victim, who sat stoically with arms crossed in the courtroom gallery as an interpreter translated the proceedings for him.

"We made a big mistake," Dion McClam told the judge repeatedly. "We shoulda never did it."

"We really regret it," Darius McClam said. "We just wish we could turn back the hands of time and start over again, but now it’s too late."

Several family members asked the judge to show leniency. Grandmother Sharon Nicholson said she was always able to help solve her grandchild’s problems in the past.

"This is the first time in my life I cannot help," she told the judge. "Everything is in your hands."

Deal gave Dion McClam 25 years with 13 years to serve in prison and the remainder on probation, contingent on his earning a GED within three years. The judge gave Darius and Christopher McClam 25 years with 12 years to serve in prison, with the same conditions.

"This was more than one bad decision," the judge said. "Anywhere along the line, this armed robbery could have been averted."

The judge added, "when you have a loaded gun pointed at someone, it only takes one more bad decision for that person to die.

"Unfortunately, apologizing can’t take it back, so there are consequences you have to suffer because of your actions."

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