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Gary man gets 75 years in junkyard slaying

Hillard Hathaway was sentenced to 75 years Friday for killing Danny Leake at a junkyard in 2018.

Hathaway, 52, was found guilty March 7 on the murder charge, but not guilty on a count of attempted murder for shooting at Arthur Smith, Danny Leake’s childhood friend and business partner who was with him.

Judge Samuel Cappas sentenced Hathaway to 60 years for murder and 15 years for a firearms enhancement.

Hathaway and co-defendant Michael Brown were charged in February 2018.

Leake, 44, of Gary, died Jan. 25, 2018, after he was found shot in an empty lot near a junkyard in the 1400 block of East 49th Avenue, court records show. Brown was acquitted in November 2018.

At the sentencing Friday, Leake’s brother, Christopher, appeared to break down and cry on the stand.

It had been “six long years” for justice and closure, he said. His brother Danny was a “loving father”. His death “didn’t have to happen” and the family was “robbed” of his life.

“We miss him dearly,” he said.

Leake’s mother Martha Stevenson added on the stand that Danny, her oldest child, was “charming” and “most intelligent”. He was their fix-it guy for cars, technology and computers.

Deputy Prosecutor Chris Bruno said Hathaway had a criminal history dating back to age 17. It evolved from drug charges to Leake’s murder and a later domestic battery conviction.

He “will never change,” Bruno argued.

Hathaway “executed” Leake, shooting him at least 15 times, with five bullets striking him. Leake was shot at least three times in the back, Bruno said.

The death was “all for nothing” — a dispute between Leake and Brown over stolen car batteries that Hathaway wasn’t involved with, he said.

He asked for 80 years.

No weapons were recovered from the scene, only bullet casings.

Defense lawyer Robert Varga argued Brown was more culpable. Leake had been yelling at Brown over the phone and there was “strong provocation”.

Gary Police failed to test another weapon, he said, which could have shown it how much it was a “powder keg situation”.

Hathaway’s criminal history was mostly two decade-old drug cases before Leake’s murder and the later domestic battery case, Varga said. He started a trucking business and was legitimately at the junkyard earlier that day.

Varga argued since the jury acquitted Hathaway in the attempted murder, that raised doubts that he had a gun there.

Brown “actually shot” Leake, he argued.

He asked for a lower sentence.

Bruno retorted that based on the evidence, Varga’s theory meant Brown would have had to hit all five shots fired, while Hathaway shot over 15 times and missed.

There was no provocation; if anything, Hathaway “inserted himself into the situation” by going back with a gun to the junkyard as backup, the prosecutor said.

Hathaway spoke briefly, asking the court to note a few things “for the record” including he asked Varga to object to Smith’s testimony, which the lawyer didn’t do.

That would have been legally meaningless, Cappas told him. When the judge asked if Hathaway wanted to say anything else, he declined.

Hathaway later indicated he would appeal.

Deputy Prosecutor Kasey Dafoe was Bruno’s co-counsel. Defense lawyer Brett Galvan assisted Varga.

During Hathaway’s trial, Arthur Smith testified that he thought Brown stole some of his auto batteries from a Gary junkyard that Smith helped run.

Brown and Hathaway left. Leake called Brown several times, telling him to bring the batteries back. They waited for about two hours.

When Hathaway and Brown returned, Hathaway, the passenger, had a gun in his hand. Brown, driving, also had a gun, though Smith didn’t see it immediately. Until the shooting, Brown’s gun was pointed down, he said.

Smith said he was “trying to squash the situation,” moving between Leake and Hathaway, who was pointing his gun. Leake and Hathaway “started to argue” and it got “out of hand.”

Hathaway put the gun away before he pulled it back out and started shooting a couple of times at Leake. Smith grabbed Hathaway’s arm. Hathaway tried to shoot a few times at Smith, who “pushed him off” and “ran.”

Hathaway chased Leake around a tree, firing more shots. Leake fell near where Brown stood, who was also shooting, Smith said.

Smith ran and called 911.

Officers responded shortly after 1:30 a.m. that day for a call of shots fired and found Leake lying on his back in an empty lot near a junkyard, the affidavit states. Leake had “several gunshot wounds to his upper body,” and the Lake County coroner’s office ruled his death a homicide.

mcolias@post-trib.com

Post-Tribune archives contributed.