KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Three teenagers who pleaded guilty in the death of a 15-year-old Gibbs High School student were sentenced in court Friday. Two will spend time behind bars and the third will spend three years on diversion-probation.
Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green sentenced Noel Leyva, 19, who held the party the night Zach Munday died, for being an accessory after the fact. He was sentenced to three years of probation-diversion and must spend 25 hours a year during that term speaking to youth groups about what happened the night Zach died in May.
Isaiah Brooks,18, was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, but Green said he's willing to review the case and his sentence a year from now. Brooks pleaded guilty to reckless homicide in August in Zach's death.
"You're going to see the inside of a jail and the penitentiary for awhile," Green told Brooks.
Green said he believed Brooks caused Zach's death by body-slamming him to the ground as they scuffled the night of May 25 outside Leyva's house.
Green imposed an immediate 30-day jail sentence for Chelsea Hopson, 18, and said she would spend the balance of her six-year term on probation-diversion. As part of her sentence, Hopson has to speak to groups about what she did as a cautionary tale. She pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact in August.
If Leyva and Hopson remain trouble-free during their diversion terms they'll be spared from having a record as a felon.
Friends of the Mundays and the defendants packed the courtroom for the hearing. The judge moved the hearing from his small courtroom on the main level of the City County Building to a bigger courtroom upstairs.
The prosecution said more than 50 statements and letters have been submitted on behalf of Zach, and many people who were in the courtroom were his classmates at Gibbs High School.
Hopson's lawyers argued she was one of the first people to come forward and speak to investigators after Zach went to the hospital. They urged the judge to give her probation-diversion. When it was her turn to speak, Hopson said she "truly didn't know" how badly Zach had been hurt.
Her lawyer, Chloe Akers, argued she couldn't be considered a murderer. Hopson said she's "terrified to do anything" and she fears people recognize her when she goes out in public.
She told Green she would work every day "to be the best I can be." She also apologized twice to Munday's family.
Green declined to grant a request by Hopson's lawyers to put off reporting to jail until Monday.
Zach's parents spoke at the beginning of the sentencing hearing. His father Josh Munday said he thought Brooks and Hopson have no remorse, and he asked for "shock incarceration" of a few months for Hopson rather a complete sentence of diversion.
The teen's mother, Jeanne, cried, telling Brooks that Zach's family lived only a mile away from him -- an easy distance to return the boy after he was injured. Instead, she said, Brooks and Hopson chose to let her son die at Brooks' basement apartment.
Original story 10/30/19:
The parents of a 15-year-old Gibbs High School boy who died in May after being slammed to the ground at a party are asking a judge to ensure two people involved in the death serve their time in prison.
"Isaiah and Chelsea took Zachy's right to live, his right to grow up, grow old, and they took away his light that shined so bright for everyone to see," Zach Munday's mother Jeanne Munday wrote in a victim impact statement about the crime.
Josh and Jeanne Munday, however, do support leniency for Noel Leyva, the 19-year-old man who hosted the party at which Zach and other underage teens drank and at which Zach was mortally injured, records show.
Isaiah Brooks, an 18-year-old Gibbs High School graduate, and his former girlfriend Chelsea Hopson, also 18 and a spring graduate of Gibbs, face sentencing Friday morning before Knox County Criminal Court Judge Scott Green. They pleaded guilty Aug. 29.
Brooks faces a 10-year term for reckless homicide in Zach's death. Hopson faces a six-year term for being an accessory after the fact.
Brooks has a prior prohibited weapons charge he picked up at age 17. He was put on diversion as a juvenile in that case, records show.
Brooks and Hopson are seeking judicial diversion, which a judge can grant. Diversion would allow the pair to serve a probation-like sentence that could be wiped from their records if they remain trouble-free.
Prosecutors aren't taking a position on probation or judicial diversion by agreement.
Judges rarely hand out judicial diversion, and typically only in cases involving first-time offenders involved in little or no violence.
Leyva also is set to appear in court Friday morning for sentencing. He, too, has pleaded guilty, to a charge of being an accessory after the fact and furnishing alcohol to a child, a misdemeanor.
The Mundays' statements are submitted to Green as part of investigatory reports for sentencing prepared by the state Department of Correction.
A report has been submitted for Brooks, Hopson and Leyva.
The records show the Mundays repeatedly condemning Brooks and Hopson for failing to look out for their son and causing his death.
Zach was drinking the night of May 25, 2019, at Leyva's party -- Leyva's North Knox County parents were in Mexico at the time -- and scuffled with Brooks, who said he was drunk.
After Brooks sent Zach to the ground, the younger boy developed bleeding from the ear and he had trouble speaking, witnesses said. Both are signs of a possible brain injury.
Brooks and Hopson took the boy to Brooks' basement apartment in his parents' home and kept him overnight. Zach vomited. Brooks at one point took the boy into the shower.
They finally sought help the next day around lunchtime. By then, a doctor determined, his head injury was such that it was too late to save Zach's life, according to Knox County prosecutors.
Leyva took items stained with Zach's blood and drove to a pizza restaurant dumpster some five miles away. He ditched the items there, although Knox County investigators later recovered them.
No one called authorities or their parents to relay what had happened, the investigation showed.
The Mundays say it would be wrong to give Brooks and Hopson a break.
"Giving Isiaiah and Chelsea diversion would deprecate the seriousness of this offense," Jeanne Munday wrote. "It would show that it's OK to hurt someone and let them die. It would show that you don't have to call 911, their parents or anyone to help."
Wrote Josh Munday: "Isaiah knew what he did to Zach and lied about it to the investigator. Chelsea told everyone that she was taking Zach to the hospital but instead took Zach to Isaiah's house to die. Zach did not get a second chance at life. Zach was condemned and sentenced to death by Isaiah and Chelsea.
"Zach suffered, I am suffering and there has been no suffering on Isaiah's and Chelsea's part."
Zach's brother, Christian, also submitted a victim impact statement.
Attorneys for Hopson also have filed a sentencing memo on her behalf.
The court will weigh the impact statements and other court filings as it considers the appropriate punishment. Green can also invite the defendants to speak.
Brooks, according to records obtained by 10News, didn't remember much about the night because he'd been drinking. He recalled people drank and smoked marijuana at Leyva's house.
He recalled lying in the front yard and then asking Hopson to come pick him up so he could go home.
"My memory is very fuzzy about the incident, due to my intoxication, but I accept there would be have been conflicting facts, if this case were to have gone to trial..." he wrote in a statement given to TDOC investigators for the pre-sentence report.
Brooks said Zach was his "best friend."
He said the younger teen was conscious while at his house.
"Although Zach stated to me on numerous occasions that he did not want to be taken to the hospital, I nevertheless should have taken him there. I don't deny recklessly causing Zach to fall down in the street and hit his head, which ultimately led to his death," the statement reads.
He added: "I never intended for my best friend to die from my reckless behavior and will regret it every day for the rest of my life."
Hopson did not submit a statement. Her lawyers, however, spoke on her behalf in a court memo filed this week.
"Despite the wishes of Zach Munday's family, incarcerating Ms. Hopson is not necessary to protect the public from future crimes or as a deterrence," Don Bosch and Chloe Akers wrote.
"This case present a uniquely tragic situation, and the likelihood of something factually similar happening again, to either Ms. Hopson, or any other member of the public, is extremely remote."
The lawyers say Hopson has accepted responsibility for what she did and is sorry for what happened. She's an excellent candidate for diversion, they argue.
On the night of the party, Leyva went back several times to an area convenience store to buy alcohol, the investigation showed. He used a fake ID.
Leyva, who had graduated from Gibbs the year before, is a student at East Tennessee State University.
Zach, who had just finished his sophomore year, spent an estimated 25-30 minutes at Leyva's house after being hurt before being moved to Brooks' house, according to authorities.
Leyva recalled the moments after seeing Zach, sitting outside in a car, with a head injury.
"I tried to ask him what was wrong but he kept mumbling and saying, 'My ear, my ear,'" Leyva's statement reads.
He continued: "We then decided to get him in the house to clean him up and see if it was something serious. I helped Munday inside and laid him downstairs on the couch. I tried to help him by getting him a towel to clean him up and gave him ibuprofen, but he started to throw up."
Leyva carried him to Hopson's vehicle. He said he told him, "I loved him," and that's the last time he saw him alive.
Leyva knew the Munday family well, having been to their home and taken trips with them, according to records.
The Mundays ask Green in their victim impact statements to show Leyva compassion. They said he goes to Zach's grave and attended the funeral.
He is remorseful, they wrote.
"We are asking for leniency upon Noel, because we feel that Noel truly is a good person, he is a hard worker, and we believe that he will have a positive impact on society in some way one day. We believe that in this case if there is one person that deserves probation/diversion, it is Noel."