A Brooklyn gunman whose stray bullets hit a pregnant woman in the head will spend 18 years in federal prison, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Steven Bynum, 40, pleaded guilty in 2020 to a drive-by shooting charge and using a firearm in a crime for blasting a gun into a crowd on Dean St. near Howard Ave. in Brownsville on Sept. 10, 2017.
The gunfire was the latest salvo in an escalating beef with another drug dealer.
Except he didn’t hit his target.
Two of his bullets hit Tytianna Sparks in the head.
Sparks was 19 years old and 20 weeks pregnant, and the bullets fractured her skull and damaged her brain. She survived, after multiple surgeries, 78 days in the hospital and three weeks on a ventilator. Her baby survived as well, but her life, and her relatives’ lives, were forever changed.
She walks with a noticeable limp, has scars across her face and neck, is losing her hearing, and no longer has a sense of smell. She’s partially paralyzed on the right side, and she needs regular Botox injections to keep the fingers on her paralyzed hand from digging into her skin and her shoulder from popping out of its socket.
“[Sparks’ son] will never know what it’s like to grow up with a healthy mother who can run, who can jump, who can be silly with him on the playground,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Francisco Navarro. “The best way I can put it, the defendant, he didn’t take Tytianna’s life, but he took her life. He didn’t take baby Sparks’ mother, but he took his mother.”
Sparks, now 24, stood up to speak at Bynum’s sentencing Tuesday, but couldn’t get the words out. Her mother, Ruth Sparks, spoke on her behalf.
“Thank God it’s over. The wait was long,” Ruth Sparks told the Daily News afterward. “I told him that she was in her first year of college … until he came along and he took that from her.”
Bynum said he fired the shots to scare off a drug dealer who previously pulled a gun on him over a perceived debt, his defense lawyer Kannan Sundaram said.
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“The government is portraying this as some sort of New Jack City situation with two big-time drug dealers,” Sundaram said. “This person pulled a gun on him, attacked him with a gun. This was an act of fear, an attempt to scare him off.”
Bynum said he accepted full responsibility for his actions, and the aftermath.
“I did not intend for that to happen, but I am still the cause for that tragedy and that situation,” he told the court. “Your Honor, I just want everyone to know to understand that I felt my life was in jeopardy. … All I wanted to do was scare him off, to keep him from my own life. It was never my intent to hurt anyone, especially an innocent bystander.”
Navarro pointed out that Bynum fired from inside a car when he saw his target in a crowd, after driving around the block and thinking about what to do..
“He could have stood down, but he didn’t. He could have made the choice to seek payback later,” Navarro said. “That would have been a bad decision, but it would have been less bad than the one he chose. … His actions scream of self-preservation.”
Brooklyn Federal Judge Ann Donnelly sentenced Bynum to more than the 12-year prison term recommended by federal sentencing guidelines.
“In my view, this case just epitomizes the devastating effect of gun violence in our community,” she said. “It’s a trail of heartache and pain, and it’s because of this notion that it’s somehow OK to exact your own revenge or find your own justice.”