SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- A Syracuse street gang member who was the driver in a drive-by fatal shooting of a star athlete was sentenced today to 20 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue imposed the sentence on Habakkuk Nickens, 28, who pleaded guilty last year for his role in the V-NOT gang, which used violence to control its drug-trafficking business on the city's south side.
Federal prosecutors have identified Nickens as one of the two leaders of the gang. But he denies any leadership role.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Mordue could have sentenced Nickens to more than 30 years in prison. But the judge cited the work that Nickens did in the community to try to turn teens away from violence and gangs after Nickens distanced himself from the V-NOT gang.
Nickens founded Help Breakdown Silence in 2011 and held community events aimed at putting young people on the right path, according to court papers filed by his lawyer, William Sullivan.
In January 2012, the group gave away hats and gloves to children at "The Man in the Mirror Event." It included skits aimed at discouraging violence and drug use. One skit was entitled "Death Become Us," according to a flier that Sullivan filed with the court.
Federal prosecutors have said Nickens formed the non-profit group only as an attempt to prepare for his defense to the racketeering charges.
Mordue said he received 31 letters from people, many of them jail inmates, praising Nickens for his spiritual guidance. Nickens formed a bible study group at the Cayuga County Jail, Sullivan wrote in court papers.
Nickens wrote two books in jail that he hopes to publish someday, Sullivan wrote. One was "Book of Habakkuk," which is the story of his life "with Bible references which illustrate how to transition to a better life," the court papers said. The other was a children's book with parables, Sullivan wrote.
Nickens admitted he was the driver in the Nov. 26, 2010, drive-by fatal shooting of Kihary Blue. Nickens pulled up alongside a a car known to be used by rival Bricktown gang members on Interstate-81 and V-NOT leader Kahari Smith opened fire.
Blue was not a member of a street gang, but was with four Bricktown gang members in the car, police said.
Blue, 19, was a star football and basketball player at Henninger High School before he graduated in 2009.
Two days after that shooting, Bricktown member Saquan Evans targeted the wrong gang for retaliation. He fired into the parked van of 110 Gang member Rashaad Walker Sr., killing his toddler son, Rashaad Walker Jr., who was in a car seat.
The gang members were arrested in May 2012 by the Syracuse Gang Violence Task Force.