Shawn "Shorty Roc" Cook appeared at ease yesterday as he awaited his sentence of 30 years in prison for fatally shooting one man and nearly killing two others in what the judge called the most notable organized gang activity in Burlington County history.
The 26-year-old reputed Bloods member smiled at his sister and mother, sitting three rows away in Superior Court. He and his fiancee blew kisses to each other.
Shelly Scott - whose son, LaVonne Adkins, was the Camden man who was slain - sat expressionless on the other side of the courtroom and quietly took notice.
It's all "fun and games" to them, Scott told Judge John Almeida in her statement at the sentencing. Cook is a sociopath, she said, an evil monster.
"It ain't fun and games," said Cook's sister, Shata, in response.
"Shawn has the audacity to crack a smile at his family," Scott told the judge.
Cook's supporters - his mother, sister, fiancee and friends - were stunned by the deal he got in April after pleading guilty to the aggravated manslaughter of LaVonne Adkins, the aggravated assault of Eric Adkins, LaVonne's brother, and the attempted murder of Maurice Brown.
It wasn't until yesterday, when the judge formally issued Cook's sentence - which will keep him locked up well into middle age - that their anguish became public. Shata Cook wailed, drowning out the judge's words, and clung to her mother, Charlene Shuler.
The previously bubbly fiancee sobbed and slumped over the side of her chair in grief.
Tarell Ambrose, also of Camden, entered a guilty plea with Cook for directing two of the shootings from his jail cell, and was sentenced last week to 22 years in prison. Six other defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the shootings, and a seventh, Joseph Townsend, awaits trial. Cook acknowledged pulling the trigger in the attacks.
His fiancee, who would only identify herself as Toya, said before the sentencing that she had begun corresponding with Cook since he entered prison.
"He's still a good man and everybody makes mistakes. . . . I feel sorry for their loss. I'm losing somebody, too," she said.
Almeida also cited Cook's positive traits, praising him as intelligent and charismatic.
"But you took a turn early on that was not good," he said.
Cook's record includes aggravated manslaughter at age 12. By 18, he was in prison for drug possession, the judge noted.
"And you're only 26 now," Almeida said.
The judge laid out the consequences of that night in February 2006, in which the Adkins brothers were ambushed in front of their Willingboro home and Brown was shot in Camden hours later.
A wasted life. People injured. Families ruined.
"I don't get it," Almeida said.
LaVonne Adkins was marked as "food" - targeted for execution - for missing gang meetings, according to prosecutors. His brother happened to be with him on the porch when the carload of gang members rolled up to carry out their attack.
Brown, according to authorities, was shot because he had snitched on Ambrose for an unrelated crime.
Defense attorney Jill Cohen relayed an apology from Cook to the Adkins family. He wanted them to understand what he was caught up in and "the environment in which he had been placed," she said.
Cook could barely be heard over the cries of his loved ones, as he spoke to the judge and warned against joining gangs. It wasn't worth it, he said, but he didn't know that until it was too late. He was sorry, he told Almeida.
The judge encouraged him to help people so they didn't turn out like him and Ambrose. People "will listen to you," he counseled.
The sentence was what Scott had begged for: "Please, allow me to be witness to true justice," she asked Almeida yesterday.
But Cook's family felt he deserved less, especially with many of the other defendants getting five-year sentences as a result of their plea agreements.
"I love you! Call me!" Toya said as Cook was led away.
She and Cook's other supporters bounded out of the courtroom, one cursing loudly at the judge's decision as they pushed through the doors.