Montco man gets jail for fatal shooting inside church

Mark Storms of Lansdale is led out of court in handcuffs Tuesday, after a Montgomery County judge sentenced him to 10 to 20 years in prison for shooting and killing Robert Braxton III at a church in Montgomery Township last year during Sunday worship services.

Hilda Braxton was at the Jersey Shore with her husband on a Sunday morning when she received a phone call from her sister. Her 27-year-old son, her sister told her, had been shot.

"I said, 'That's impossible, Robbie's at church,' " Braxton recalled saying.

Robert Braxton III had been shot and killed while attending Sunday services at Keystone Fellowship Church in Montgomery Township.

His grieving mother sobbed on the witness stand of a packed Montgomery County courtroom Tuesday, as her son's shooter, Mark Storms, 46, of Lansdale, was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in state prison and two years' probation. 

Judge Gary S. Silow handed down the sentence after more than two hours of emotional testimony and arguments in a packed courtroom.

A jury convicted Storms in November of voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors and witnesses at trial said Braxton, a member of the congregation, had arrived at church that Sunday morning in April 2016 acting abnormally -- and agitated. 

After ushers and others in the church stepped out of Braxton's way, prosecutors said, Storms approached him with his hand already on his gun holster. After Braxton punched him, Storms fired his gun and shot him in the chest. 

"Do you see yourself as some type of hero who injects himself into certain situations?" the judge asked him before pronouncing sentence. "There was no justification whatsoever for you to intercede."

Storms' lawyer had argued at trial that he was justified in shooting Braxton because he was acting in self-defense. Storms, who sat trembling and crying throughout Tuesday's hearing, did not address the judge.

"He does still believe that it was necessary under those circumstances to at least try to intercede," his lawyer, Vincent DiFabio, said after the hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Laura Bradbury said Storms "has a vigilante mind-set."

Storms wrote a letter to the judge ahead of sentencing that described other instances in which he had stepped into harm's way to save or protect others. 

"He thinks of himself as a hero who needs to go and put himself in the middle of a dangerous situation," Bradbury said. 

The judge said he did not know whether he believed Storms' anecdotes. Storms wrote that to protect children who were on a fishing trip, he once was held at knifepoint by a dangerous man and that he once jumped onto subway tracks to save a child who had fallen. 

Several friends and family members testified about Braxton's life, describing him as having a contagious smile. He had graduated from Temple University, purchased his grandfather's home in North Wales, and had a job at Prudential Insurance.

Braxton attended Keystone Fellowship Church every Sunday. Storms also belonged to the church -- the two men had even shared a cabin at a men's retreat a few years earlier, Braxton's father, Robert Braxton Jr., said. 

His father said he will never know why his son was upset at church that morning.

"We all have bad days, but no one needs to die from them," he told the judge. He said his son needed love -- "not the end of a 9mm gun."

Storms' father, a Methodist minister, also testified and asked for leniency for his son. Storms has led a prayer group at the jail since his arrest last year, he said, and is so gentle that he once could not bring himself to shoot a deer on a hunting trip.

"We have shared in our son's anguish," the Rev. Timothy Storms said. "Mark's remorse was clear to all those around him."

The Braxton family responded with disbelief that Storms would have thought it necessary to introduce a loaded gun into the situation. 

"This tragedy is something that was never supposed to occur," said a cousin, Ashley Gonzales. "Let alone in a place of worship."

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