Murder defendants in court with their attorneys.
Defendants Ali Mohammed, far left, and Lavell White stand next to their attorneys, Lori Pedego and Michael Scott, far right, in a Santa Maria courtroom earlier this year. They were sentenced to life in prison without possiblity of parole for a 2014 homicide.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A pair of former Allan Hancock College basketball players were sentenced to life in state prison without the possibility of parole on Monday for a fatal shooting that occurred during a drug-deal-gone wrong in 2014.

Lavell White, 26, the mastermind, and Ali Mohammed, 23, the shooter, were sentenced by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge James Voysey. 

The two were arrested in January 2015 in connection with the fatal shooting of Terence Richardson, 23, of Santa Maria, on Dec. 30, 2014.

They were convicted of murder in late April following a 3-month trial held in Lompoc and Santa Maria at the start of the year; they also faced burglary and robbery charges. 

The mixed verdicts included not guilty and deadlocked on other charges.

They also determined Mohammed did not intentionally discharge the firearm by deciding the special allegation was not true.

The shooting occurred as Richardson sat in the passenger seat of a vehicle parked near the intersection of Bradley Road and Jones Street where the driver, Ryan DePalma, intended to sell marijuana to the pair.

However, Mohammed, armed with a gun, jumped in the back passenger seat while White stood guard outside the driver’s side of the car during the robbery. At one point, the driver stepped on the gas causing the gun to fire, fatally wounding Richardson.

Deputy District Attorney Stephanie Schoenburg showed a number of phone calls and text messages between the defendants and others about their need for money and the crime spree committed in the weeks before the slaying.

Testimony that began March 6 came from what White’s attorney called “a cast of characters” — former Hancock athletes from basketball, football and baseball — who knew the defendants and allegedly committed crimes with them in some cases.

Throughout the trial, the defense attorneys, Michael Scott for White and Lori Pedego for Mohammed, noted the number of uncharged accomplices who told multiple stories to law enforcement officers over the years.

On Monday, the judge rejected defense motions seeking to reduce the mandatory sentencing, challenging it from several angles.

“I’m obviously disappointed. The felony murder rule is problematic in a lot of ways,” Pedego said after the sentencing hearing.

The felony murder rules assigns punishment without attaching moral culpability, she added.

“It takes what could be involuntary manslaughter, an accidental killing, and ratchets it all the way up to the most serious punishment possible which could be death or life without parole,” Pedego said. 

The prosecution chose not to seek the death penalty, leaving the men facing life without parole.

​Mohammed’s attorney cited his age, background, lack of criminal history, the accidental nature of the shooting, and his role as a follower as reasons the court should reject the mandatory sentence.

“We thought all those reasons could lead the court to find the application of (life without parole) in this case unconstitutional,” Pedego said. “The court did not, but we are not done.”

Both defense attorneys said they intend to file appeals in the case. 

After the sentencing, Scott said he thinks there is a good likelihood the case could be overturned upon appeal due to evidence allowed over the defense objections.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.