Dorchester man gets life sentence for murder committed months after release
Shaquille Brown, a 24-year-old who spent much of his adolescence behind bars, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday for killing a 20-year-old baggage handler outside a Dorchester bodega in June 2017.
Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Bradley said Brown murdered Christopher Austin “in cold blood” as Austin was on his way to work at Logan Airport.
“[Austin’s] mom that day asked him if he wanted a ride to the T station . . . he declined. Why?” Bradley asked. Because, he answered, everyone in Boston “should have the right to walk to work.”
Bradley said that video footage showed Austin “walking through the park without a care in the world” and that Brown “decided, planned, to hunt him and execute him at point-blank range.”
Austin’s mother, Grace Richardson, provided a victim impact statement that was read aloud in the courtroom.
“We would like to thank the Commonwealth for all they have done for our family. Our lives will never be the same,” Richardson wrote. “We don’t understand why Christopher was taken from us. We will never know . . . we envision a better world, safe communities, loving homes.”
In a previous interview with the Globe, Richardson said Austin, the youngest of her five children, was exceptionally bright and loved computers and music. As a little kid, he would follow anyone wearing headphones, hoping to listen to their music, she said.
“That was his passion,” Richardson said. “He created music. He created his own beats.”
A Madison Park High School graduate, he took part in a summer program at the Berklee School of Music and soundproofed his bedroom closet to create a studio.
Richardson said her son was quiet and hardworking, and liked to be alone.
“He just kept to himself and his siblings. He had a couple of friends,” she said. “I even said to him, ‘You need to go out more. You need to enjoy life.’ ”
Under Massachusetts law, Brown’s first-degree murder conviction will be automatically appealed.
No motive was given for the killing of Austin, who had no criminal background, and no physical evidence tied Brown to Austin’s death. But video footage showed Brown looking at Austin as he came out of the store after buying candy, and one witness said he saw a man with a chipped tooth approach Austin on the street.
That witness and another man testified that they saw a man with a chipped tooth flee the area after the shooting. Brown has a chipped tooth.
Austin’s killing happened just four months after Brown was released from maximum security prison.
On Thursday, Brown’s attorney Mark Bennett detailed Brown’s difficult background and time in prison, which the Globe chronicled in a November 2018 story. He said Brown was born with an addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine.
Raised by his grandmother, Brown had no role model in his life after she died when he was 13, Bennett said.
“This great void appeared in his life, when the streets beckoned,” Bennett said.
Brown ended up being imprisoned for nearly 10 years — some of that time spent in solitary confinement — for charges that included assault and illegal gun possession.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, speaking Tuesday on WGBH’s “Greater Boston,” expressed her sympathies to Austin’s family.
“What I like to remind people is often times our defendants are victims as well and it’s really hard for people to hear that,” she said. “There are two families that are changed for the rest of their lives when a homicide happens ... for the rest of their lives they are inextricably tied.”
Rollins noted that the Globe had reported that Brown had been placed in a specialized unit for inmates with mental health problems but was still rejected as a client by the state Department of Mental Health as he prepared to leave prison.
“I believe that that, if those facts are in fact true, that is a significant breakdown in the system,” she said.
Bennett, Brown’s attorney, said he has already filed an appeal and is hopeful Brown’s conviction will be overturned.
“I don’t see Mr. Brown as some might see him. I see him as a very human face,” Bennett said.
“Someone with hopes, and yes, frailties and fears, but someone who is very capable of compassion and humor . . . you don’t have to know much about Mr. Brown’s story to know that he never really had a chance.”
As Suffolk Superior Court Judge Michael Ricciuti handed down the sentence, Brown’s mother, Tammy, and sister, Jasmen, broke into tears.
“I love you, baby,” his mother said as Brown prepared to leave the room.
“I love you, too, Mama,” Brown said.