By David Travis Bland Reporter The State
Tears stained the faces of a victim’s family after a judge sentenced the killer in Richland County court Thursday.
Circuit Court Judge Casey Manning sentenced Ricardo Laroy Middleton for killing Sydni McMillan Collins more than two years ago.
Middleton faced 30 years to life in prison following his August murder conviction in a killing that prosecutor Lamar Fyall called “very brazen.”
Collins’ mother and other relatives pleaded for Middleton to receive the harshest sentence possible. In emotional testimony, Tommye McMillan, the victim’s mother, said Middleton has “shown no remorse for the senseless killing.”
Collins and her husband, Aaron, were both killed and another man injured in what defense attorneys labeled a shooting between rival motorcycle clubs.
The Collinses and fellow biker Ricky Montgomery were members of a motorcycle club, according to the defense and prosecutors. On the evening of July 27 2017, Aaron Collins and Montgomery confronted members of a rival motorcycle club, including Middleton, defense attorney Tivis Sutherland told the jury. The two factions argued before the Collinses and Montgomery rode away on their motorcycles.
Middleton and another man, Marquez Johnson, followed the three in an SUV to the 7700 block of Parklane Road near the intersection of Claudia Drive, according to authorities.
While at a stop light, Middleton got out of his vehicle and pistol whipped Montgomery, prosecutors with the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office said in a statement. Seeing Montgomery assaulted, Sydni Collins reached for her gun but was shot twice by Middleton in the upper body. Her husband was shot five times in the upper body, investigators said.
Middleton and Johnson fled the scene.
Deputies with the Midlands Gang Task Force and Richland County Sheriff’s Department investigated the shooting, and in August 2017, Middleton was arrested at a Summerville home after a search by four sheriff’s agencies and U.S. Marshals.
Richland deputies charged Middleton with two counts of murder and attempted murder. After a four-day trial last month, the jury found Middleton guilty of murdering of Sydni Collins but deadlocked on whether he killed her husband. Middleton was acquitted of the attempted murder charge in Montgomery’s shooting.
Charges against Johnson are pending.
The sentencing hearing began with testimony from Collins’ mother.
“If I could have taken my daughter’s place I would have gladly given my life so that she could have lived,” she said.
McMillan told the court the her daughter was kindhearted, a devoted wife, loving mother and thoughtful sister.
“We miss everything about her because she was such a bright light,” she said. “For the brutal murder and pain and suffering he has caused my family, Ricardo Middleton needs to have a life sentence to think about his life and all the pain and suffering he has caused others.”
A victim advocate described the pain caused to Collins’ child, reading a statement by the child.
“Losing my mother at that time was extremely disruptive and was a violent upheaval of my life. I wanted to keep growing with her in my life and I wasn’t done needing her guidance,” one child wrote.
Cynthia Collins, Sydni’s mother-in-law, rebuked Middleton for putting what she saw as his soul in peril.
“You truly didn’t know the wonder of God’s creation on the night that you took the life of Sydni Collins,” she said, speaking directly to Middleton. “Do not let this life that you have taken be in vain. Save your life by accepting the Lord Jesus Christ and being real with your own self and asking for forgiveness.”
Middleton’s family also spoke up for him.
His aunt, Barbara Hutchinson, said Middleton was “more a son than nephew” and told the judge, “how they’ve painted him to be, he’s not that person.”
Hutchinson said her nephew traveled as an electrician and would go anywhere to work and support his daughter. Everywhere he went, he found a church to go to, she told the court.
“It could be a Methodist, Baptist (church), he’s in a church,” she said.
Sutherland, the defense attorney, told Manning that he advised Middleton to remain silent in court. In a contentious exchange, Middleton interrupted his attorney to tell the judge he was going to speak.
Middleton began to argue that he didn’t have a fair trial, but Manning swiftly cut him off.
“I’m not going over your trial with you,” Manning said.
Middleton was given another moment to speak and again tried to dispute evidence presented against him at trial.
In a quick pronouncement, Manning sentenced Middleton to life in prison, saying, “This matter’s concluded.”
Both Middleton’s family and Collins’ family left the court in tears.
After the trial, Sutherland said he will appeal the ruling.
“We maintain his innocence,” he said, and referenced the still pending charge in Aaron Collins’ death. “I’m disappointed with the one guilty count but I admire people (of the jury) who step up and do their duty. … We got another charge to deal with. We look forward to the next step.”
Fyall, along with assistant prosecutors John Steadman and J.J. Shellenberg, gathered in the Solicitor’s Office on the floor above the courtroom. Fyall said he’d never witnessed a defendant try to personally litigate the evidence at a sentencing hearing.
Manning’s decisive and expeditious sentencing gave Collins’ family an opportunity to move beyond the crime even if their loss hasn’t dissipated, Fyall said.
“They still miss, obviously, their loved ones,” he said. “It’s not really closure in a sense because their loved ones still aren’t there.”