Though Kwok Wai Ho has been dead for more than two years, the pain of losing him to a random act of street violence is still unbelievable to his large, extended Chinese-American family.
Yesterday, they gathered in a sixth-floor Common Pleas courtroom to see Marcquis Walker-Williams sentenced for killing their 69-year-old family patriarch in July 2007.
After hearing pleas for mercy from the 19-year-old defendant, his relatives and former teachers, and after calls for the maximum sentence from Ho's family, Judge Shelley Robins New handed him a 12 1/2-to-25-year term in state prison.
The third-degree murder sentence was harsher than the 72 months to 20 years that state sentencing guidelines allow for a defendant with no prior criminal record, but it was less than than the statutory maximum range of 20 to 40 years.
The defendant, the judge said, "had the benefit of a large, loving family . . . people who tried again and again to guide him in a world that is difficult."
But, according to testimony during his August trial, Walker-Williams on July 10, 2007, veered sharply from those influences when he went looking to "catch a body."
That's street slang with a range of meanings, from assaulting to robbing to murdering a stranger.
Walker-Williams, according to several friends who testified, asked them if they wanted to catch a body as they walked to a drugstore on Greeby Street near Loretto Avenue in the Oxford Circle neighborhood in the Northeast.
They said no, but moments later, Walker-Williams grabbed Ho from behind, got him in a choke-hold and slammed his head to the pavement.
Ho, who was taking his daily after-dinner stroll, suffered a fractured skull and bleeding brain when his head struck the sidewalk. He died a week later.
For nearly 10 minutes yesterday, a handcuffed Walker-Williams tried to explain himself and asked for forgiveness.
"Every day I think about this," said Walker-Williams, a former student at the Spruce Hill Christian School who was raised by a church-going adoptive mother. "It's scary. I'm scared - for real. It was a mistake. I didn't mean for it to happen.
"I cry in my cell. I cry on the phone to my family. They understand.
"We are all Christians. . . . I ask that you will forgive me," he said to Ho's family.
Ho's son-in-law Derek Luk, who said that Ho had become a Christian late in life, offered a Bible verse to Walker-Williams' family - Proverbs 22: 6:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
"My children are young, but they know about you," Luk told Walker-Williams. "They know you as the man who took away their grandfather. I hope when they are older they can meet you and treat you with kindness and compassion."
Mazie Alpert, Ho's niece, said that Ho had come to this country from China with no money and had become the core of a family that included his wife, two children, four grandchildren and his 94-year-old mother.
He ran a lunch truck for many years before retiring, and volunteered to drive the old and sick in Chinatown, his family said.
"To think that his life was treated like a game to the defendant is a disgrace," Alpert told the judge. "He's a murderer and a cold-blooded person who has stolen a life. . . . We will never have our uncle back, and we will never get this crime out of our heads."