CHICAGO (AP) - A Chicago teenager who pleaded guilty to fatally shooting another 14-year-old girl in a street fight in 2014 that escalated from a Facebook feud over a boy will be eligible for parole in April next year.
The teen, who turns 19 next month, struggled to hold back tears as she tried to read a statement during her sentencing hearing Wednesday. She eventually handed her handwritten statement to her attorney to read.
"Nothing I can say will mend your hearts," she acknowledged in her statement, addressing the family of her victim, Endia Martin. "I pray that one day you can find it in your hearts to forgive me."
The defendant hasn't been named because she was 14-years-old when the shooting occurred and was charged as a juvenile.
Endia's mother, Jonie Dukes, sat quietly in the courtroom with her husband throughout the hearing. In a statement read by the prosecutor, Dukes told Judge Stuart Katz about the day she walked into her daughter's hospital room and saw her daughter "not breathing." She wondered: "Where was the smile everybody was used to seeing? It wasn't there."
The teenage defendant was handed a mandatory sentence of at least five years in custody, and she can't be held beyond her 21st birthday. With the time she has already served, she will be eligible for parole next April and can't be held beyond July 2020.
The teen also pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Lanekia Reynolds, the girl she had intended to fight the day she killed Endia.
The case came to symbolize how the gun violence that plagues parts of Chicago passes from one generation to the next. The girl was given the firearm by an adult who knew the cost of gun violence as well as anyone: an uncle who has been in a wheelchair since he was shot in 2010.
"There is a cycle of violence that just perpetuates itself," said Eugene Roy, a retired police commander who oversaw the investigation of the shooting. "And unfortunately, what happened is not surprising."
Her uncle Donnell Flora, who is paraplegic, testified that when he learned his niece and Reynolds planned to fight, he grabbed a handgun, got onto a bus and made his way to the scene, which was outside of a home in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the city's South Side.
Flora testified that he brought the gun to protect his niece and gave it to her with instructions to give it to her adult cousin, Vandetta Redwood, which he saw her do. But in the chaos of a crowd of a few dozen people that had gathered on the street, the freshman honor student raised the gun and opened fire. Reynolds and Martin, who were on the porch of a house, fled inside. As they did, one bullet grazed Reynolds' arm. Another found Endia Martin's back, killing her.
Flora was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges in the case and was sentenced to 100 years in prison. Redwood, meanwhile, was charged with handing the loaded gun to the teen, but she was acquitted.
"There are no excuses or rationalization for giving a child a gun to take to a ridiculous fight about a boy," Judge Thaddeus Wilson told Flora when he sentenced him in January. "Children in this city are dying by the hundreds because adults fail to and/or refuse to be adults."
During a recent phone interview from his prison in southern Illinois, Flora didn't make excuses for introducing a gun to a dispute between young girls. Choosing his words carefully so as not to endanger his appeal, he tried to explain his rationale.
"You have kids 12, 13, 14 with guns," he said. "It wasn't no grown-up who shot me, it was a kid."
Joel Brodsky, an attorney who represented Flora during his trial, said Flora just wanted to have a gun at the scene for his niece's protection.
"He really cared for his niece, didn't want any harm to come to her. ... And his testimony was he wanted the gun to be present in case somebody came at her with deadly force," Brodsky said.
Roy, the police commander who oversaw the investigation, isn't buying it.
"Here's a guy who's a paraplegic, his life has already been destroyed by gun violence, and what's he doing?" Roy asked. "He's encouraging gun violence that went to the next step: murder."