Gunman gets 25 years in deadly, drive-by shooting of 5-year-old

Jessie Hughes Jr. entered court where he received sentences totaling 25 years in the shooting death of a 5-year-old girl. (WIBW/Steve Fry)
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- The gunman who fired the bullet that fatally wounded 5-year-old Lily Coats-Nichols as she rode strapped in her car seat was sentenced Thursday to prison terms totaling 25 years.

Jesse Dean Dashawn Hughes Jr., 23, was sentenced to:

  • 19 years for voluntary manslaughter;
  • five years and one month for criminal discharge of a firearm, and;
  • 11 months for aggravated assault (use of a deadly weapon).

The sentences will run consecutively, but Hughes can receive a 15 percent reduction in the sentences for good behavior. At most, that would reduce Hughes' sentence to 21 years and nine months.

The shooting of Coats-Nichols’ was reported to Topeka police at 11:38 p.m. on July 6, 2015, at S.E. Golf Park and Fremont.

Coats-Nichols died July 9, 2015, at a Topeka hospital.

Shawnee County District Court Judge David Debenham asked Hughes whether he had anything to say before the judge imposed the sentenced.

"I have nothing to say," Hughes said.

Tension between the family of Lily Coats-Nichols and family of Hughes was high at times on Thursday.

The father of Coats-Nichols said something, then bolted from the courtroom. After the judge warned the families that he would eject anyone who said anything else, a woman in the defendant's supporters muttered something, and she was ordered to leave.

At another point, a woman in the victim's family lunged toward the hallway door but was blocked from exiting the courtroom.

Meanwhile, two Shawnee County sheriff's deputies and three Shawnee County corrections officers moved closer to focus on the two groups.

After the sentencing ended, the child's family, then the defendant's supporters were instructed to leave the courtroom separately.

Before Hughes was sentenced, David Coats, an uncle of Lily, told the judge how the loss of his niece has impacted him.

"I felt like I lost a child," David Coats said.

Just minutes fefore she was shot, Lily had been at a family gathering.

"I love you, Uncle Davey," he said Lily told him when she left. In the past, she would say something silly when the two would part. It was the only time Lily ever told him she loved him, he said.

Lily was the best friend of a daughter of David Coats. He said his daughter recently told him that five is her favorite number because Lily was five when she was killed, and that was all the time she got before she went to live with Jesus.

Raven Coats said her daughter's death was a "senseless gun crime" just two weeks before Lily would have turned six.

"The impact (of Lily's death) has turned our worlds upside down," she said.
Robert Coats, the child's grandfather, said he lost not only Lily, but he sees less of his two surviving granddaughters.

He recalled Lily loved to ride the bicycle she learned to pedal when she was four years old. He hasn't returned to a favorite pool that Lily liked.

Hughes originally was charged with felony first-degree murder in the child's death.

On July 25, 2019, Hughes pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Coats-Nichols; no contest to criminal discharge of a firearm; and no contest to aggravated assault (use of a deadly weapon), court records said.

Topeka police found 15 shell casings fired from a 9mm handgun in the intersection of Golf Park and Fremont.

Deputies and corrections officers closed in on two families that verbally clashed when the man who fatally shot a 5-year-old girl in 2015 was sentenced Thursday in district court. (WIBW/Steve Fry)