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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Coconino’s Bailey McCauslin (24) runs past two Lee Williams defenders Friday evening at Coconino High School.

Final two L Motel defendants sentenced to four years in prison

In 2017, four teens were accused of killing 23-year-old Jaron James.

On Thursday, all four of the people involved in beating Jaron James to death in a motel room at the L Motel have either pleaded or been found guilty by a jury and have received their sentence. The cases were handled separately by the Coconino County Superior Court, but the trauma left in the wake of the party at the L Motel has been the same.

The two found to be most at fault in the beating, Jayda Fortune, 19, and Mirelle Gorman, 18, were sentenced to four years in prison at two back-to-back hearings on Thursday. The previous two men who were also accused in the crime, Lawrence Sampson-Kahn and Kayson Russell, both accepted a plea deal for negligent homicide and were sentenced to three years of probation.

The four minors were tried as adults because of the serious nature of the crime, and the fact they were over 15 years old, Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring said.

"The victim is no less deceased just because the perpetrator is a youth," Ring said. "The youth is no less guilty than an adult whose conduct results in the death of the victim.”

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Jayda Fortune collapses behind a podium Thursday morning after being sentenced to four years in jail by Superior Court Judge Mark Moran in the beating death of Jaron James, 23, during a party in a room at the L Motel. Fortune had been found guilty of manslaughter following a jury trial.

James’ family attended both Thursday hearings, and have had to attend many hearings over the past few years in this case.

They shared their pain at the loss of their son, brother and grandson for the fourth sentencing hearing they have had to go through. During the first hearing, the family asked for a maximum penalty.

Gorman originally asked to be given probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter in August. Fortune, who was found guilty of manslaughter by a jury in June, and her attorney asked Judge Mark Moran to allow her to delay the start of her prison sentence by four months due to recently having a child. Moran didn’t address Fortune’s request, and asked both Fortune and Gorman to self-report to the jail at 5 p.m. on Thursday as opposed to being taken directly into custody from the courthouse.

Gregory Parzych, Fortune's attorney, said his client and her family were disappointed with the judge's decision to send his client to prison.

"Given her age and what occurred in this case, we felt probation was appropriate," Parzych said. "Obviously, Jayda and her family are disappointed with her being sentenced to prison."

When asked, James’ family decline to comment on the case.

Back-to-back hearings

At her hearing, Fortune apologized for her actions.

“I’m sorry,” Fortune said. “I didn’t mean for him to die. … I’m sorry for [his family’s] pain and their loss.”

Fortune and Gorman were accused of beating James repeatedly for more than a minute, stopping for a short time, and returning to beat James a second time for a minute. Investigators later found James' blood on their clothes from the beating.

Fortune’s attorney said she acted in self-defense during her trial, accusing James of sexually touched the two underage girls and saying he was being aggressive at the party. While witnesses testified during the trial to James’s aggressive nature on the night of the party, no one confirmed seeing James sexually touch either woman.

When Moran spoke to the courtroom to inform Fortune of how long she would be in prison, he said the callous and violent nature of the crime outweighed any possibility of parole due to her age.

After Gorman and Fortune left the L Motel, James was left on the floor overnight. Witnesses reported seeing him breathing soon after the beating. However, by the time someone tried to wake him the next morning, his breathing had stopped and he was later declared dead.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Judge Mark R. Moran listens to the prosecution Thursday morning during a sentencing hearing for Jayda Fortune who was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Jaron James, 23, during a party in a room at the L Motel. moran sentenced Fortune to four years in jail.

The Coconino County Medical Examiner found the beating resulted in bleeding in James’ skull. The pressure on his brain from the blood caused James to fall into a coma and eventually die.

“I want to tell you anything short of prison would be a slap in the face to [James’] family,” Moran said to Fortune. After hearing those words, Fortune and her family broke down in tears.

Moran continued to explain his reasoning, as Fortune’s knees buckled behind the podium. She occasionally cried into her hands. After hearing she would head to prison, she turned back to look at her family and friends, who were also crying.

“Two big concerns from what the state argued: this victim was powerless, defenseless, inebriated to the point where he could not lift his hands,” Moran said. He later criticized Fortune for her demeanor that night, citing a witness from the trial who described Fortune’s demeanor after the beating as being in a good mood or even in a “party” mood.

Hours later during Gorman’s hearing on Thursday, she underlined how her first stint in prison before being released had changed her outlook on life. But while she would offer her condolences to James' family at the hearing, she did not accept blame.

Gorman said she holds “nobody” responsible for her current legal situation, according to a presentence report.

Prosecutor Ammon Barker reminded the courtroom that Gorman returned to the scene of the crime after the beating, but said it was not to check on James.

“Gorman returned to the hotel room to get her cell phone charger,” Barker said. “She still had blood on her clothes from where the victim laid lifeless on the floor.”

Ryan Stevens, Gorman's attorney, said his client has grown since her charges in this case and her testimony reflected that.

"We respect it of course, Mirelle is a young person who can still have a bright future and do good. She's proven that over the last two years," Stevens said. "The tragic level of this case is understandable given the circumstances."

After sentencing her for four years, Moran explained the reason for his sentence, despite the presentence report’s recommendation to sentence her to three years of probation.

“The only good that comes out of this is that we know you will eventually return to the community, to your family and your child; that is something you should put great weight on, and look forward to. The reason why you’re going to prison is because [James’] family cannot say the same thing,” Moran said.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Lilah Moore, 7, plays with a car she built Thursday afternoon during Lego Club at the East Flagstaff Public Library.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Kanon Cathey plays with a bionicle action figure Thursday afternoon during Lego Club at the East Flagstaff Public Library.

NAU celebrates 120 years during Homecoming this week

As aspen leaves shift to gold and auburn once again, fall has settled throughout Flagstaff, bringing with it annual communitywide festivities such as Northern Arizona University’s Homecoming.

NAU’s week of festivities begins Monday, with its 120th anniversary as the theme.

In honor of this milestone, the Arizona Daily Sun is taking a brief look back at the history of the university and its Homecoming celebrations.

School celebrations

Assistant Dean of Students Kevin Gemoets, co-chair for this year’s homecoming committee, said his favorite part about Homecoming week is the widespread participation from faculty, staff, students, alumni and other Flagstaff residents.

“That’s, to me, what’s it’s all about: coming together as community,” said Gemoets, who received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from NAU and has worked at the university for 19 years. He was also named the Homecoming dedicatee in 2016.

Although the school has been in Flagstaff for 120 years, Homecoming itself is not quite so longstanding.

NAU, named Arizona Normal School at the time, celebrated its first Homecoming in 1924 to commemorate its 25th anniversary. The Lumberjacks lost the game, held Nov. 15, against the Phoenix College Bears 32-14, according to a September 1974 edition of the Arizona Daily Sun.

In the early years, annual Homecoming traditions included many that still remain today: the football game, a pregame dinner (that has been transformed into the annual tailgate), pep rally, alumni meal, parade, bonfire and more.

In 1936, the university began to dedicate each Homecoming to an outstanding faculty or staff member who has been at the university for at least 10 years. This year’s dedicatee is 25-year chemistry faculty member Brandon Cruickshank.

Of all traditions, records show the bonfire was taken very seriously by past Lumberjacks.

Classes for freshmen were cancelled in 1948, for example, so they could build the bonfire using boxes, crates and other flammable materials from local merchants. These students would then take turns guarding the kindling until its scheduled lighting the following day. Two years later, though, the bonfire was “set afire by unknown persons” two weeks early due to the absence of a guard, the Coconino Sun reported.

The event is not without its new traditions, either.

Gemoets said the chili cook-off and a student carnival have each been happening for about the last 15 years. Flannels and Flapjacks, a Saturday morning breakfast, has been around for nearly a decade, while the newer Make it Monday to create “spirit swag” and Ultimate Lumberjack Challenge pageant/talent show have arrived within the past few years.

This year, NAU will host its “Traditions Day” chili cook-off, pep rally and bonfire on the central quad Thursday starting at 6 p.m. On Saturday, the homecoming parade begins at 11:30 a.m., followed by the tailgate in the Skydome parking lot at 1 p.m. and the homecoming game against Portland State at 4 p.m.

A growing campus

On Sept. 11, 1899, eight years after Coconino County was established and while Arizona was still a United States territory, NAU got its start as Arizona Normal School with 23 students and two teachers, who the Coconino Sun reported each made a salary of $110.

At the time, Principal Almon Nicholas Taylor had a $200 salary. Inflation calculators suggest this equates to just over $6,000 in today’s dollars, compared to current NAU President Rita Cheng’s $475,000 salary.

Arizona Normal School classes were held in a sandstone building originally slated to be an insane asylum, but that instead became Old Main.

Advertisements for the school in the Coconino Sun prior to the start of classes stated, “The new School is centrally and delightfully situated. The climate of Flagstaff is almost perfect, conducing in the highest degree toward the health of students.”

The campus was 130 acres in total, about a fifth of its current size, and offered courses in “High School, Academic and Normal work,” with which graduates could teach within Arizona for life. The university now offers nearly 100 undergraduate degrees alone, as listed on its website.

Platt Cline, Flagstaff historian and former Arizona Daily Sun publisher and editor, believed the institution’s success and growth was largely due to the community in which it is based, according to his 1983 book “Mountain Campus: The Story of Northern Arizona University.”

“It could only have happened in Flagstaff! While there could have been a Flagstaff without the school, there could never have been the school without Flagstaff,” Cline wrote.

As for NAU’s next 120 years?

“I hope we’ll be right where we are now, continuing to educate our students and still bringing the community together,” Gemoets said. “I hope we’ll be a point of pride for Flagstaff and Arizona, like we are now.”

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Flagstaff's Luke Canizales (8) prepares to return a Seton Catholic kickoff Friday evening in the Walkup Skydome.

First all-female spacewalking team makes history

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The world's first all-female spacewalking team made history high above Earth on Friday, replacing a broken part of the International Space Station's power grid.

As NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir successfully completed the job with wrenches, screwdrivers and power-grip tools, it marked the first time in a half-century of spacewalking that men weren't part of the action. They insisted they were just doing their job after years of training, following in the footsteps of women who paved the way.

America's first female spacewalker from 35 years ago, Kathy Sullivan, was delighted. She said it's good to finally have enough women in the astronaut corps and trained for spacewalking for this to happen.

"We've got qualified women running the control, running space centers, commanding the station, commanding spaceships and doing spacewalks," Sullivan told The Associated Press earlier this week. "And golly, gee whiz, every now and then there's more than one woman in the same place."

President Donald Trump put in a congratulatory call from the White House to mark "this historic event ... truly historic."

"What you do is incredible. You're very brave people," Trump told them as they wrapped up their spacewalk.

Replied Meir: "We don't want to take too much credit because there have been many others — female spacewalkers — before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time ... For us, this is really just us doing our job."

NASA leaders, Girl Scouts and others also cheered Koch and Meir on. Parents also sent in messages of thanks and encouragement via social media. NASA included some in its TV coverage. "Go girls go," two young sisters wrote on a sign in crayon. A group of middle schoolers held a long sign reading "The sky is not the limit!!"

At the same time, many expressed hope this will become routine in the future.

Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a three-time spacewalker who looked on from Mission Control in Houston, added: "Hopefully, this will now be considered normal."

NASA originally wanted to conduct an all-female spacewalk last spring, but did not have enough medium-size suits ready to go until summer. Koch and Meir were supposed to install more new batteries in a spacewalk next week, but ventured out three days earlier to deal with an equipment failure that occurred over the weekend. It was the second such failure of a battery charger this year, puzzling engineers and putting a hold on future battery installations for the solar power system.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine watched the big event unfold from Washington headquarters.

"We have the right people doing the right job at the right time," he said. "They are an inspiration to people all over the world including me. And we're very excited to get this mission underway."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sent congratulations to Koch and Meir "for leaving their mark on history" and tweeted that they're an inspiration to women and girls across America.

The spacewalkers' main job was to replace the faulty 19-year-old old charge-regulating device — the size of a big, bulky box — for one of the three new batteries that was installed last week by Koch and Andrew Morgan. As the seven-hour spacewalk drew to a close, Mission Control declared success, informing the astronauts that the new charger seemed to be working and the space station was back to full power. The women dragged in the broken unit so it can be returned to Earth early next year for analysis.

"Jessica and Christina, we are so proud of you," said Morgan, one of four astronauts inside. He called them his "astrosisters."

Spacewalking is widely considered the most dangerous assignment in orbit. Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, who operated the station's robot arm from inside during Friday's spacewalk, almost drowned in 2013 when his helmet flooded with water from his suit's cooling system.

"Everyone ought to be sending some positive vibes by way of airwaves to space for these two top-notch spacewalkers," Dyson said early in the spacewalk.

Meir, a marine biologist making her spacewalking debut, became the 228th person in the world to conduct a spacewalk and the 15th woman. It was the fourth spacewalk for Koch, an electrical engineer who is seven months into an 11-month mission that will be the longest ever by a woman. Both are members of NASA's Astronaut Class of 2013, the only one equally split between women and men.

Pairing up for a spacewalk was especially meaningful for Koch and Meir; they're close friends. They're also both former Girl Scouts.

It took two decades for women to catch up with men in the spacewalking arena.

The world's first spacewalker on March 18, 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, died last week. NASA astronaut Ed White became the first U.S. spacewalker less than three months after Leonov's feat. Women did not follow out the hatch until 1984. The first was Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya. Sullivan followed three months later.

Friday's milestone spacewalk was the 421st for team Earth.