Watch CBS News

Suspect in 9 year-old girl's murder takes plea deal for 5 years after witnesses change testimony

Suspect in 9 year-old girl's murder takes plea deal for 5 years after witnesses change testimony
Suspect in 9 year-old girl's murder takes plea deal for 5 years after witnesses change testimony 01:59

DALLAS — The suspected gunman in the 2019 murder of a 9-year-old Dallas girl will serve no more than five years behind bars for her death, 40 years less than his accomplice in the same crime.

Until late last week, prosecutors were seeking a life sentence for Tyrese Simmons for the 2019 murder of Brandoniya Bennett. His trial took a turn, though, when two witnesses changed their testimony, prompting a mistrial.

A man who testified in the trial of 2022 Devonte Benton that he had seen Benton holding a gun told jurors last week it was in Simmons' hands. Simmons' attorney, Josh Healey, says a second witness also contradicted her earlier statements.

"Saying she couldn't identify the defendant, couldn't identify my guy like five times, saying the guy's name was 'K' or 'King,' then getting on the stand and saying 'No, it was Tyrese'," said Healey.

Dallas police have said Simmons was targeting a rival rapper but mistakenly fired into the home next door striking Brandoniya as she stood in her living room.

At her funeral, Mayor Eric Johnson announced the creation of a task force to look at the city's staggering rise in violent crime, paving the way for several of the city's current crime prevention initiatives.

"I cannot allow her death to be in vain," said Johnson.

The following year, Dallas County halted trials in response to the COVID pandemic.

Benton, who allegedly confessed to police he was there when Simmons fired the fatal shots, was eventually sentenced to 45 years in prison.

Simmons' trial, scheduled to begin last year, was further delayed when he cut off his ankle monitor and disappeared. Police later arrested him in Oklahoma.

After last week's mistrial, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot suggested prosecutors were left in a tough spot.

"There are situations where people change their testimony either before trial, maybe during trial, and between trials, and when that happens, it severely compromises our ability to prosecute our case," he said.

Prosecutors reached out to Simmons with a deal for a five-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Asked what Simmons was admitting to, Healey responded, "Recklessly causing the death of another human being. Not intentionally or knowingly."

He would not comment on whether Simmons pulled the trigger.

Simmons will be eligible for parole in about a year and a half.

Healey says Benton may also have new grounds to appeal his sentence.

On the phone, Brandoniya's grandmother, Tonya Elder, said the family is devastated by the outcome.  

"Five years is so insane," Tonya Elder wrote on social media. "Heavenly Father I'm counting on you for continuous strength and prayers for myself and my family."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.