As jurors were being selected for his murder trial, a former Navy seaman pleaded guilty yesterday to the 2006 slaying of 5-year-old Cashae Rivers, who was shot in the back of a car during a drug feud in North Philadelphia.
Noel "Pablo" Garcia, 25, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and related charges in Common Pleas Court.
"I am sorry. I ask for your forgiveness. . . . I apologize," Garcia told Cashae's family.
Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes then sentenced Garcia to 22 to 45 years in prison, in accordance with the plea agreement.
Cashae was shot in her back at 34th and Huntingdon Streets. Her mother, Alisha Corley, and four other relatives were also in the white Oldsmobile when they stopped at an auto shop, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Selber said.
Garcia fired nine shots at the car. Four went into the vehicle, Selber said.
Kimberly Carter-Ford, Cashae's aunt, told Garcia in court that the killing had devastated her family.
"We hurt badly. She was a good girl, and she never hurt anybody. She told me in a dream that she forgave you," Carter-Ford said. "I am happy and relieved that you pleaded guilty."
Cardwell Hughes told Garcia, "I have so much respect for you," noting that he had spared Cashae's family the grief of a potentially long trial.
"He never meant to hurt Cashae, and that has haunted him," the judge said.
The shooting was the result of a drug feud between rival groups.
About 10:30 a.m. Sept. 24, 2006, Selber said, Garcia shot at three men in the 2500 block of Spangler Street, grazing the hip of one of them. A short time later, he shot at the car carrying Cashae, Selber said.
At 4 p.m., he went with two men to Colorado and Cumberland Streets and fired at a homicide witness, missing him but striking a 15-year-old in the abdomen and a 49-year-old woman in a leg, Selber said.
Kevin Felder, then 25, was initially charged in Cashae's slaying, but charges were dropped in May 2007 after prosecution witnesses recanted statements implicating him.
Garcia, a Philadelphia native, was arrested that month in Norfolk, Va., where he was stationed with the Navy. He had been in the Navy for 41/2 years.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon said Garcia told him yesterday morning that he had changed his mind and wanted to plead guilty. McMahon said seven jurors had been selected.
"I truly believe what the court said - that this was haunting him," McMahon said. "The fact was that a young girl was dead and he didn't mean to kill her, and he was responsible for it and he wanted to stand up and take the deal."
After the sentencing, Carter-Ford said: "I know he was questioning who turned him in. I want him to know it was me."
"At one point he even commented that somebody else had taken the rap for this, and as far as he was concerned, it was a done deal," Carter-Ford said. "I just wanted to make sure that an innocent person wasn't going to be charged and he just gets to walk away."