'Worst nightmare': Washington man sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing father-to-be


An early morning home invasion robbery ended with an 18-year-old dead more than five years ago.

After years of investigation and two trials, the man who held the gun, Lawrence "Isaiah" Groce, 25, is going to prison for 20 years.

Groce was one of three men who plotted to break into Hunter Black's Yelm Street home looking for cash in October 2018, court documents said.

"It is about the worst nightmare you can experience," Judge Sam Swanberg said. "Someone breaking into your house and threatening you with a shotgun and then shooting you in the chest or someone you love in the chest."

Swanberg handed down the sentence without Groce in the courtroom. Groce was taken back to jail after his effort to withdraw his guilty plea to second-degree murder and second-degree assault.

He claimed he had no part in the shooting and felt Swanberg was unfair to him during the trial. Groce was nearly through his second trial when he admitted to being part of the robbery-turned-murder.

Then, at Groce's sentencing this month, when Swanberg ruled against him, Groce left the courtroom and was taken back to the jail.

But the hearing continued. Chief Deputy Prosecutor Julie Long asked for a 20-year sentence.

She described the crime as a nightmare for Black's then-girlfriend Cynarra Scott-Sortor and a friend who lived with him who were in the house at the time.

Scott-Sortor had learned she was pregnant shortly before the murder, and the shooting left her traumatized as she worried about the effect of the stress on her baby.

"For the longest time, I was having trouble even closing my eyes," she said at the hearing. "I was so afraid something like this could occur again. There are still often nights that I struggle with feeling unsafe."

Groce's attorney, James Curtis, asked for a 16-year sentence. He said his client was young at the time of the shooting and didn't fully understand the consequences of his actions.

"I think sometimes when you're young, you think you're invincible," he said. "When you're young, you see what is in the videos and what's on TV and you think you can do it in reality."

Several members of Groce's family said he was a good man at heart who ended up on the wrong path after losing his dream of playing basketball.

Two other people have been tied to the shooting. Wardell Eniko Braxton, 23, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He agreed to testify in Groce's trial and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

The third man, Kavonte "K.C." Conley, 24, remains on the loose. A nationwide warrant has been issued on charges of first-degree murder.

Black's sister, Dalyn Larsen, described her brother as a kind soul, and while he sold marijuana, he wasn't a violent man.

"He would give the shirt off his back to anyone," Larsen said. "On his knuckles, he tattooed 'Love,' and he was going to tattoo 'Hope' as well."

She believed Groce went into the Yelm Street home prepared for violence, since he was carrying a shotgun.

Black and Scott-Sortor were asleep when Scott-Sortor told police she woke up to shouts and saw Black in the bedroom doorway yelling at the masked men.

The men were demanding cash from Black, who sold marijuana.

Black ended up being hit in the chest with a shotgun blast.

Scott-Sortor told Swanberg that the image of her dead boyfriend has haunted her. She's since moved across the country with their son, who asks about the father he will never know.

Black's sister said it's hard to return to the Tri-Cities now.

"Lawrence Groce should receive the maximum sentence allowed for the murder of my brother," she said. "The pain and trauma that he has caused are still rippling through our lives and continuing until we pass away. I hope during this time of incarceration he will grow and reflect on his many terrible life choices."

She also said she felt bad for Groce's family.

Groce's father, two of his sisters and a family friend all spoke on his behalf. They all were sympathetic to the loss and horror that Black's family has suffered, and they apologized for him.

When he was young, Groce was full of life and had a good heart, they said.

They promised to stand behind Groce and help him become a better person when he's released from prison.

Swanberg said Groce still seems immature and is not yet accepting responsibility for the shooting. He also needs to learn how to deal with his emotions better, said the judge.

"He'll get a chance, I believe, to grow and mature and hopefully, develop into a human being that understands better the consequences of actions and the value of human life," he said.