The image in the minds of relatives of the last moments of Antorie Coates and his girlfriend, Alida Maria Cruz, could not have been more ghastly: shot to death in a van, doused with gasoline and set on fire.

On Wednesday, relatives gave a message to the man who admitted killing them: "We forgive you."

Courtroom observers said the atmosphere at the guilty plea and sentencing of 38-year-old William Deputy of Upper Darby was so intense that he wept openly as Coates' sister, Akeya Coates, and mother, Eva Whaley, made victim-impact statements.

Deputy made an equally heartfelt apology to the victims' families and his own and afterward, observers said, relatives of the victims and their killer embraced as they left the courtroom.

Deputy pleaded guilty before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner to two counts of first-degree murder in the Feb. 22, 2014, slayings of Coates, 35, and the 20-year-old Cruz.

Assistant District Attorney Thomas Lipscomb said Deputy agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for life in prison without parole.

Defense attorney Wendy Ramos, who with Constance Clarke represented Deputy, declined to comment.

Lipscomb said Coates, Cruz, and Deputy knew one another but early last year Deputy, a drug dealer, came to believe that Coates had stolen several thousand dollars from him.

Lipscomb said he believes Cruz was a bystander who happened to be with Coates when Deputy confronted and killed him and then her. The pair were shot to death inside a Ford Windstar van at an unknown location, Lipscomb said.

Deputy drove the van to the 2200 block of Orthodox Street in Frankford, Lipscomb said, and began preparing to torch the car when he was interrupted by a guard from a nearby auto-towing yard who warned him he was visible on a security camera.

Lipscomb said Deputy then drove the van around the corner to the 4600 block of Trenton Avenue, where he set the van ablaze and burned himself.

Deputy, still nursing burns while hiding at his girlfriend's home in Upper Darby home, was arrested March 1, 2014.

jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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