The brass once containing the bullets that killed Marley Lion were shipped to England, where experts searched them for fingerprints.

Nothing.

A blurry video of the man who shot the 17-year-old as he tried to sleep was sent to the Secret Service, whose technicians tried to clear it up.

Nothing.

Investigators couldn’t find any forensic evidence pointing to the one man who pulled the trigger six times on that morning of June 16, 2012, in West Ashley.

They found the murder weapon, but without help from the two men who participated in the crime that led to Lion’s death, prosecutors didn’t know if they could win a guilty verdict.

That’s why, with less than two months to go before the murder trial of 32-year-old Ryan P. Deleston, prosecutors offered the duo deals in exchange for testimony. The men avoided murder charges.

It worked. Deleston was convicted last month.

And as they stood before a judge Wednesday, the West Ashley residents’ attorneys used that cooperation to argue for lenient sentences.

It didn’t work.

On Wednesday, 33-year-old Julius Perrell Brown and Bryan Latrell Rivers, 29, were sentenced to 28 years in prison, two fewer than the maximum they faced for voluntary manslaughter.

Ninth Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald also sent 29-year-old George Ellis Brown to prison for 12 years for being an accessory before the murder. He let the other men use his gun to try to rob Lion.

For Liz Paige of Johns Island, Lion’s mother, Wednesday’s hearing marked the end of a public ordeal that began with her televised appeal for possible witnesses.

But in the packed courtroom, she expressed no mercy to the men whose testimony helped send Deleston to prison for the rest of his life.

“They made their choices of their own free will,” Paige said. “They chose to kill my son.

“We hold you responsible for your choices.”

George Brown will get credit for the 10 months he had already served in jail and the other men for the 15 months they have served.

‘Hardened criminals’

When Deleston was tried last month, his defense attorney posed an alternate theory that Rivers tried to rob, then shot Lion as Deleston and Julius Brown stood by outside Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill.

With a lengthy rap sheet, Rivers left prison two weeks before Lion’s death. Within days of his release, he shot a drug dealer during a robbery. An hour before Lion was shot, Rivers robbed a drunken couple in downtown Charleston.

Considering his past, a jury might believe that he was the gunman, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said.

Deleston had implicated himself in the attempted robbery of Lion. But Wilson worried that his requests for an attorney during videotaped police questioning might have prompted a judge to bar his confessions from the trial.

The interview was allowed, though Wilson still thinks it could serve as grounds for an appeal.

She needed more.

“We had what we had,” Wilson said. “We were going to go to trial one way or another.”

Investigators first got some help from George Brown, whose Sig Sauer pistol was used in the slaying. A police informant had purchased the gun from Deleston, leading to the men’s arrests.

When he was first questioned in July 2012, George Brown denied knowing anything about the shooting. The next day, he told the police that Deleston returned to the house where the men had been partying that night and washed his hands with bleach.

Though George Brown had misled investigators — which prompted prosecutors to withdraw a plea deal on his charges — he had given them a start.

“It was an important part of the truth,” Chief Deputy Solicitor Bruce DuRant said. “It gave them an idea of who was involved and what happened.”

When offered a lesser count to avoid the murder charge, Rivers and Julius Brown spared no details in their interviews with prosecutors this summer.

Julius Brown first talked about how he yelled at Deleston to bust the window of Lion’s vehicle and rob him. Then Rivers talked about two robberies he carried out before Lion’s shooting.

Their stories made sense, Wilson said.

They convinced her that Deleston was the shooter, and she knew they could do the same for a jury.

“The problem is these are hardened criminals,” Wilson said. “They weren’t there just to do the right thing. They were there to save their skin.”

‘The hard way’

Wednesday was the day, though, when their attorneys would use their testimony against Deleston as a bargaining chip.

None of the men spoke, except to answer the judge’s yes-or-no questions.

Rivers’ attorney, Richard Buchanan, told McDonald of his client’s turbulent childhood. He hadn’t known his father, and his mother had sickle-cell anemia and lived on disability checks.

He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and started getting into fights before he was 13.

Rivers had taken the wrong path, but he was the only one who remarked at the senselessness of Lion’s slaying shortly after the crime.

“He shot that cracker for nothing,” Buchanan said, referring to his client’s comment that morning.

To the contrary, attorney Rodney Davis told the judge, Julius Brown was “shocked” and “incensed” by what Deleston had done.

Julius Brown often sold drugs to supplement his income as a landscaper and provide for his children, his attorney said. But when he saw a chance to help, Davis said, he was the first to enter into a plea agreement.

“The message is: You should cooperate with law enforcement even if you are guilty,” Davis said in asking the judge for no more than a 10-year sentence. “Julius has done that ... boldly.”

George Brown’s attorney, Aaron Mayer of West Ashley, said his client was expecting his first child next year. Adding to his predicament, his father is undergoing dialysis for kidney failure.

But George Brown felt “great, great remorse” for Lion’s death, Mayer said.

The attorney partially attributed his client’s role in the crime to a tendency to give into peer pressure.

George Brown had been shot once as he planned to testify in a murder trial, Mayer mentioned, and feared repercussions if he came forward in the Lion case too.

He thought an eight-year sentence would be reasonable.

“George’s life-learning process will continue,” Mayer said. “It will continue with his sentence. It will continue with fatherhood. ... He’s learning the hard way.”

But for each defendant, the judge said their cooperation came too late.

Ultimately, it was the undercover police operation that led to their arrests and to their testimony more than a year later.

After McDonald ordered that the men be imprisoned, bailiffs ushered them through a door as the clatter of their shackles mixed with the sobs of their loved ones and of Lion’s friends and family.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.