The two men convicted of murdering Rugby dad Jordon Banton have been sentenced to 30 and 25 years in prison.
Darrell Akins, 28, of Follager Road, Rugby, and Paul Clarke, 35, of Bluebell Close, Rugby, had denied killing Mr Banton. But a jury at Warwick Crown Court delivered unanimous guilty verdicts on the pair this afternoon (Monday).
Judge Richard Griffith-Jones sentenced them both to life imprisonment. Akins will serve 30 years before being considered for parole, and Clarke 25 years before being considered for parole.
During the six-week trial, the jury heard that 23-year-old Mr Banton was shot as he sat in his Seat Leon car in Newton Road, near Rugby, on July 25 last year. Two 12-bore shots were fired at him in broad daylight in front of passing motorists, and a third after his car swerved violently across the road and into a ditch.
And after just over seven hours of deliberation as the trial entered its sixth week, to loud cheers from the public gallery, the jury found both men guilty by unanimous verdicts.
After the jury delivered the verdicts, Akins stood up and hurled verbal abuse. He threw a jug of water at a screen, shattering the jug and covering Clarke with water. He was then led away.
Following an adjournment they were brought back into court where Akins turned to the jury members who had returned, snapping: “Don’t look at me. I don’t want you looking at me.”
Jailing both men for life, Judge Richard Griffith-Jones ordered Akins, who continued to protest his innocence, to serve a minimum of 30 years before he can be considered for parole.
Clarke, who the judge described as a follower rather than a leader, was ordered to serve a minimum of 25 years.
The judge paid tribute to the police for their use of ‘modern technology and good old-fashioned police work’ – and as officers left the court they were applauded by Mr Banton’s friends and family.
The 23-year-old had been shot as he sat in his Seat Leon car in Newton Road, near Rugby, at 11.40am on July 25.
After the jury had returned its verdicts prosecutor Andrew Smith QC said Akins had convictions going back to 2003 for offences including affray and assault, and in 2008 had been jailed for three-and-a-half years for possessing crack cocaine with intent to supply it.
Clarke also had convictions for affray and assault, and an old conviction for burglary.
Although during the trial the jury had heard that texts sent by Akins to Mr Banton on the morning of the shooting included demands for money Akins was owed, there had also been an incident in Banbury the previous night.
On that occasion, it was said, Akins had pointed a shotgun out of a car window at a teenager who had shown disrespect towards him – and he had complained about it to Mr Banton, who knew the youth.
And Judge Griffith-Jones commented: “Killing someone is not a way of obtaining money that’s owed.
“It seems to me, although of course it’s difficult to have a comprehensive picture, that this was the culmination of a power struggle in which Mr Banton was on one side and these defendants, Mr Akins in particular, were on the other.
“If one looks back at the night before and the shadowy characters from London and the lack of respect Mr Akins thought he was receiving from the teenager, bolstered by Jordon Banton, it seems to me the real motivation is the exercise of power.”
Adrian Redgrave QC, for Akins, said: “The only submissions we can make are the presence or absence of either aggravating or mitigating factors. It is our submission that none of those pertain here.”
Michael Holland QC, for Clarke, argued that there was not a significant degree of planning or organisation behind the killing, but the Judge queried: “Why was Akins’ and Clarke’s car going to meet Banton’s car with a gun if it was not to murder?”
Mr Holland suggested: “This may be a confrontation which, as things become more heated, led to the use of the gun. He is entitled to be dealt with on the basis that he wasn’t the gunman.”
He added, in a reference to the fact that Mr Banton was on bail at the time for inflicting grievous bodily harm: “If it was a power struggle, it’s a power struggle between two men who were capable of serious violence.”
Sentencing Akins and Clarke, Judge Griffith-Jones told them: “Gun crime is a scourge. Gun crime understandably causes the public to be afraid. Gun crime generates the risk that wholly innocent bystanders can be killed or hurt.
“This case was about gun crime used in the exercise of power between rival groups, one of which Mr Akins you had a major role in.
“Because of what happened before the day of July 25, I am sure there was a battle for influence in the midst of which was a perhaps rather precocious teenage boy.
“I cannot set out in detail, but I am sure Jordon Banton in some way bolstered the boy and in some way was seen by you Mr Akins as a serious rival to your power and influence.
“You did not kill him because he owed you money, although he may have done so, you killed him to demonstrate your power, just as the night before the trip to Banbury with the gun had been a further exercise of power.
“On the day the two of you set out to intercept Jordon Banton, even though he had shown no inclination or willingness to meet you. This was absolutely not a confrontation between you and Banton who had no means of defending himself.
“There is no sure evidence about who was the driver and who was the gunman - but in my judgement it doesn’t matter when a team set out to intercept and kill someone regarded as a rival.
“The fact that there was an intention to kill is evidenced not only by the presence of the gun, the number of shots fired and the proximity of the deceased when the shots were fired, but by the leaving of him dying in a ditch. The leaving of a human being in that condition is despicable.
“Akins, this was no less than an execution by shooting.”
After the two men had been led from the dock, the Judge added: “The police have to operate in difficult circumstances. Their resources are limited, and their task in dealing with members of the public not all of whom are enthusiastic supporters of the police makes their life even harder.
“Here, by the deployment of modern technology and good old-fashioned police work they have demonstrated an excellent investigation for which the public ought to thank and congratulate them.”
Speaking after the hearing, senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Pete Hill said: “This was a difficult case from the very beginning of the investigation and the verdict is the result of painstaking detective work undertaken by a team of dedicated police officers who were determined to find those responsible.
“We have worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service during the investigation and as a result of the hard work and diligence of officers and the CPS, a just outcome has been achieved.
“I would like to like to thank everyone who shared our appeals, which were vital in assisting the police in this complex investigation. Gun crime is extremely rare in Warwickshire and this investigation shows that police will not tolerate it and will not rest until justice is delivered.”