NEW BOSTON, Texas–A third man has been convicted of murder in a 2017 shooting that began with a dispute at a football party and ended in gunplay at a Texarkana residence.
After LaPrense Derell Willis, 48, was found guilty of murder Thursday by a Bowie County jury in the Dec. 3, 2017, shooting of Tony Sanders, he displayed symptoms of medical distress that led court officials to halt the trial and call for any evaluation by emergency medical personnel. The trial resumed a short time later and the jury returned a 70-year sentence.
Takyme James, 44, was sentenced to life in 2018 and Clarence Willis, 50, who has since died, was sentenced to 99 years in 2019. Clarence and LaPrense Willis are brothers and cousins to James.
“The jury’s swift conviction and punishment verdict of 70 years closes this sad chapter for Tony Sanders’ family,” Crisp said. “[Laprense] Willis made the heinous and senseless killing of a husband and father possible by driving the getaway car.”
While Clarence Willis and LaPrense Willis were not accused of firing the shot that killed Sanders, they were found guilty under the “law of parties,” which spreads accountability among all participants in a crime.
James was attending a football party at a private club hosted by Sanders on the afternoon of the shooting. James was drunk and creating a disturbance at the gathering so Sanders asked him to leave, according to testimony and court records. James initiated a physical confrontation with Sanders, who was able to gain the upper hand in the confrontation at the party.
After James left with a bruised eye, he went to the home of his cousins, Clarence Willis and LaPrense Willis, and the three men went together to Sanders’ home in Texarkana, Texas. Clarence Willis kicked in the door of Sanders’ home and James fired a shot that went through some drywall before hitting Sanders in a main artery in his leg.
Crime scene photos showed a neatly kept home, decorated for Christmas, and with a young child’s toys organized in a family area. The couple’s child was not home at the time of the shooting.
Sanders’ wife, who was hiding in a bedroom, called 911. Texarkana, Texas, police attempted to stop the bleeding but the location of the bullet wound made it difficult. Sanders died that night in a local hospital.
First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp, who represented the state along with Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards, said evidence presented during the punishment phase of the trial on Thursday showed that LaPrense Willis is a danger. Law enforcement witnesses testified that Texarkana police were preparing a cocaine delivery case against him before his arrest for murder.
LaPrense Willis’ former spouse testified that she met him when she was 14 and he was 24 and that he initiated a sexual relationship with her when she was 15. During the marriage, he allegedly abused her physically and threatened to kill her, Crisp said.
LaPrense Willis was represented by Texarkana lawyer Shorty Barrett. Fifth District Judge Bill Miller presided over the trial at the Bowie County courthouse in New Boston.