More than a month after pleading guilty to the January 17 murder of Alexandria Yellow Cab driver Khalil Siddiqi, two of the three defendants in the case heard their punishment Thursday morning in Alexandria Circuit Court.
Judge Donald M. Haddock sentenced Alexandrian Jamal Berry, 20, a 2007 T.C. Williams graduate and former lacrosse player, to 18 years in prison for second-degree murder, robbery and a firearm violation. The sentencing came after the court heard from three witnesses, including Berrys mother.
Prosecutors called the crime completely and totally senseless, leaving few reasonable answers to why questions, and in her closing statements Deputy Commonwealths Attorney Krista Boucher said Moores role in the crime was pre-meditated, planned and coolly executed.
Assistant District Attorney Shelby Hadfield had originally recommended 22 years in prison for Berry, but Haddock granted 30 years for the second-degree murder charge (20 were suspended), five years for the robbery charge and three years for the firearm infraction.
Joshua Moore, 18, a Maryland resident with a childhood narrative characterized by personal tragedy and hardship, pled guilty to first-degree murder as the shooter and was sentenced to 36 years in prison for murder, robbery and a firearm violation.
Moores sentence included 50 years for the murder with 24 years suspended, seven years for robbery and three years for the firearm charge.
The third defendant, a 17-year-old Alexandria male charged with first-degree murder, will appear in court on Thursday, September 3, when a judge will decide if he is mentally competent to stand trial. He owned the gun used to shoot Siddiqi.
The three men called for a cab on the night of January 17, intending to take whatever money they could to fund a night out, according to court documents. When Siddiqis cab arrived at the corner of Princess and Buchanan streets, Moore climbed into the cab where he shot Siddiqi and left with about $60.
Siddiqis slaying, the first of the year in Alexandria, left behind a wife and three children who, without a breadwinner for the Fairfax County household, were forced to move to live with relatives in Texas, prosecutors said during the sentencing.
The taxi drivers family and friends sat front and center in the courtroom gallery for both sentences and remained composed throughout as each defendant became visibly emotional while apologizing to them directly.
Hadfield said in her closing statements that Berry, who had a supportive network of family and friends and no criminal history prior to the Siddiqi case, was unlike most defendants that come through the courtroom.
A series of witnesses testified to Berrys character and prior record as a community member, athlete and son before Haddock announced his decision.
Margaret Fitzsimmons, whose son played lacrosse with Berry, said she was shocked when she originally found out that someone named Jamal Berry was implicated in this crime.
In the roughly seven years shed known Berry, Fitzsimmons said that he was first and foremost a respectful person and, though sometimes immature, she had never known him to be hurtful.
Allen Hines, co-chair of the deacon board at Berrys church, said Berry had always exemplified being a gentleman always a good guy, good kid, respectful of everybody.
Hines, having watched Berry grow up over the years as a regular fixture at church on Sundays, said that the events of January 17 were inconsistent with the person he knew.
Wanda Jane Berry, the defendants mother, talked about their close relationship (to which Fitzsimmons had also testified), and how she never foresaw her son ending up in jail for murder.
We have such a close relationship Jamal was always there for me, said Ms. Berry, adding that most of his friends had at one time or another visited the familys home but neither of his accomplices had ever done so.
Despite their extremely close relationship, Ms. Berry, said she had no inkling of the type of people her son was with the night of January 17 and that he had only met them a short time before that night.
Berrys attorney, James Clark, said that Moore and his client did not cross paths until about a week before Siddiqis murder. Berry had only known the 17-year-old for about three weeks.
Denise Tassi, Moores attorney, said her client had taken full responsibility for his actions and expressed regret for making the Siddiqi children grow up without a father, a point that Boucher emphasized as well.
I cant escape the irony that [Moore] created the same situation for the Siddiqi children that he came from himself, Boucher said.
One of eight children to an unwed mother with a history of drug abuse and addiction, Moore, at age 4, saw his oldest brother killed in front of him, Tassi said. Later, Moores first placement in foster care turned out to be abusive and by age 10 he had developed serious mental health issues.
According to Boucher, Moores parole officer said in the pre-sentencing report that theres much to overcome before he can be safely returned to society.
Moore, reading from a prepared statement Thursday before hearing his sentence, said that he hopes to be able to enter society again as a better individual.