ITHACA, N.Y. — An Ithaca man who confessed to shooting another man five times while bars closed down for the night in the Ithaca Commons was sentenced to 12 years in prison Friday afternoon.

Yakez Cornett, 22, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and second-degree criminal possession of a weapon in April. He was initially indicted on three counts in May — second-degree criminal possession of a weapon; first-degree assault and second-degree attempted murder — both A felonies.

According to witnesses at the scene, Cornett was leaving Silky Jones around 1:15 a.m. on April 9 when he got into an argument with another man. As the other man was walking away from the confrontation, Cornett shot him once in the leg and then four times in his back as he lay on ground. Two additional stray shots lodged bullets into nearby planters.

“He shot the unarmed victim, who by all accounts was backing away or retreating from verbal confrontation…there was no risk to the defendant at that time,” District Attorney Matt Van Houten said in court Friday. “He (Cornett) was extremely lucky that the victim wasn’t hit in the neck or in the head, that the victim is not paralyzed or dead.”

Cornett fled from the scene before making a dash down Bank Alley, ditching a gray coat and trying to blend in with the crowd near South Cayuga and East State streets. Witnesses, however, recognized him and police were able to quickly take him into custody. In addition to being found with a gun, police also found 17 more bullet in a plastic bag in Cornett’s  pocket. The bullets fit the .380 gun used in the shooting.

Yakez Cornett is apprehended by Ithaca police on April 9. Provided Photo

Van Houten said the 30-year-old victim now has a metal rod in his leg and will never walk the same for the rest of his life. Four bullets are still lodged in his back after doctors said the victim would risk nerve damage if they were removed.

Van Houten said Cornett has not expressed remorse for his actions and has not accepted full responsibility for the crimes.

“We are all lucky nobody died that night. That level of violence is unjustified arbitrary violence” Van Houten said. He asked for the maximum sentence of 15 years.

Defense attorney Kevin Kelly said the events leading up to the shooting were a perfect storm for the crimes.

Kelly said that Cornett was intoxicated during the shooting because he had minimal experience with alcohol.  And Cornett was illegally armed that night because he’d been brutally attacked about a year ago.

“When the verbal altercation became physical…feeling helpless, he (Cornett) reacted with the potentially lethal force, a reaction that he and the victim will regret for the rest of their lives,” Kelly said.

After the shooting and his arrest, though, Kelly said Cornett cooperated with police, went peacefully into custody after telling officers where his gun was located, and waived a trail, opting to plead guilty instead.

“Mr. Cornett has no criminal history at all in his young life,” Kelly said. “Despite the tragedy that he’s accepted responsibility for, we hope you consider the entirety of him as a human being in deciding a sentence today.”

He said Cornett is the father of two children, a brother, a son, and a member of the community.

Kelly said Cornett was looking for the opportunity apologize and express remorse for the victim in person, though the man did not appear in court Friday.

“We beg the court to consider a merciful sentence…,” Kelly said. The minimum sentence for the crime is five years in prison.

Cornett declined to comment when given the opportunity.

Judge John Rowley asked,”What do you say about a person who has acted in that matter?”

Rowley said Cornett didn’t just shoot a person, he tried to empty a clip into a person who was laying injured on the ground.

“This is an attempt to kill this person,” Rowley said. “I don’t think he’s alive today because you were trying to scare him.”

Rowley sentenced Cornett to 12 years in prison and five years of post-release supervision.

As Cornett walked out of the courtroom, more than two dozen people who showed up to support him shouted words of encouragement.

“Hold it down,” he told them as he walked away in custody. “They can’t hold me forever…I’ll be back.”

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.