Article updated at 8:20 p.m. Friday, April 22:
Tearful statements made during a hearing on Friday turned into a shouting match outside the courtroom after a Lawrence man was sentenced to eight years and four months for voluntary manslaughter.
Steven A. Drake, now 25, shot and killed 26-year-old Bryce Sterling Holladay, of Lawrence, on Sept. 19, 2017, in the doorway of a home in the 2000 block of West 27th Terrace.
During Friday’s sentencing, Drake said the past five years had been the worst of his life.
“This situation is a nightmare,” Drake said. “I didn’t want to hurt him, but I didn’t want him to hurt my family either.”
On the evening of the incident, Drake reported to dispatch that he had shot Holladay after the man entered his home and refused to leave. Officers who arrived on scene after the shooting said Drake took responsibility and walked toward them with his hands raised.
On Feb. 18, a jury found Drake guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Drake had faced the potential of being found guilty of either first-degree premeditated murder, as prosecutors alleged and as Drake was initially charged, or second-degree murder.
Pre-sentencing statements made by Holladay’s family members indicated that they were unhappy with both the verdict and the sentence. His mother, Gloria Souza, cited discrepancies as simple as testimony regarding her son’s height and weight, to more complex questions of whether Drake could have called the police instead of picking up a gun.
“The decision of the jury was based on lies,” she said. “He had plenty of time to make a different choice than he made. I don’t think there was justice in this courtroom.”
Prior to sentencing, defense attorneys Hatem Chahine and Michael Clarke argued that several factors mitigated the severity of the sentence to be handed down by District Court Judge Kay Huff. Chahine said that Drake had been asking Holladay to leave his home for approximately 45 minutes before the situation became violent. He said that Drake had warned Holladay he was going to get his gun prior to retrieving it, and warned him again before pulling the trigger.
Chahine also argued that a plea agreement made by Drake in June 2019 shouldn’t negatively affect the sentence in the Holladay case. In the earlier case, Drake pleaded no contest to attempted aggravated battery for an incident on July 8, 2017, in which he was accused of harming a 16-year-old.
Because that plea agreement preceded Friday’s sentencing hearing, Drake’s criminal history score changed, limiting his eligibility for a reduced sentence based on Kansas Sentencing Commission Guidelines. Without the plea of no contest, Drake could have seen a sentence as low as 55 months.
Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden, who prosecuted the case with District Attorney Suzanne Valdez, discounted the defense’s argument about the timing, and said Drake’s lack of remorse for harming a minor did, in fact, warrant a harsher sentence.
“There’s nothing mitigating about this matter,” Seiden said.
A separate case in which Drake was charged with vehicular homicide, a class A misdemeanor, was set for jury trial in August 2021, but prosecutors dismissed the charge. The case resulted from a crash that killed Taylor Brooke Lister, 24, of Lecompton, in November 2016.
Huff did not base Drake’s sentence off the lower criminal history score, stating that many of the sentencing delays were caused by the defense and defense witnesses.
She also cited the violent details of the battery case in her decision to sentence Drake to the maximum 100 months of incarceration. Huff said Drake would be eligible to receive up to a 15% reduction in his sentence for good behavior. Incarceration will be followed by 36 months of post-release supervision, and Drake will be required to register as an offender four times per year for 15 years.
Drake has been incarcerated since the night of the shooting — about four years and seven months. Huff credited Drake for a portion of that time.
After the sentencing hearing, family members and friends of both the victim and defendant gathered in the hall outside the courtroom.
Jessica Brown, who was present the night of the shooting, said Drake was simply defending himself and the sentence handed down was unfair.
“Really nobody knows exactly what happened except for us five,” she said. “Now we just want to pick up the pieces.”
A handcuffed Drake yelled and struggled against deputies as he was escorted down the hallway outside the courtroom, which seemed to spark a verbal altercation among supporters for the two sides.
“[Expletive] you and [expletive] your dead son,” one of the people present could be heard saying.
Another shouted “Liar, liar pants on fire!” as Holladay family members remarked that Drake’s dramatic courthouse exit was an example of his “true colors.”
Holladay’s father, Richard Walker, said the behavior in the courthouse hallway further fed his worry that Drake’s supporters might threaten his family. He said he believed Drake should get “help with his past” while in prison, but he said it would be difficult to find any forgiveness.
“They were childhood friends,” Walker said. “It’s not fair. I want my son back.”