Stephanie Thompson wanted justice for the death of her 4-year-old son Brandon.
The energetic, happy, and loving child was playing near his uncle in August 2008 in Camden when he was killed instantly, caught in cross fire between his uncle and another man fighting a petty feud.
On Wednesday, the gunmen — Martin Pierce, 23, and Donnald Lindsey, 24 — left the Camden County Hall of Justice with lengthy sentences issued by Superior Court Judge Michele Fox.
The justice meted out, however, was not exactly what Thompson wanted. She had asked for Pierce, her brother, to receive mercy. He was sentenced to 42 years. She wanted Lindsey, who shot her son, in prison for life. Because of the nature of the charges, he got less than her brother, 33 years.
"I pray your life will end in the system," the preschooler's mother told Lindsey, who fired the fatal bullet from a TEC-9 as he and Pierce drew on each other. "I pray heaven will have no mercy on your soul."
During two sentencing hearings — Pierce appeared in the morning and Lindsey in the afternoon — neither showed much emotion, although Lindsey did apologize to Thompson's family and expressed remorse.
A collage of photos displayed in court showed a smiling boy dressed in a Spider-Man costume, at a birthday party, and playing in the snow. His grandparents described a happy child who always greeted them with kisses before he started playing with his trains.
In the morning, Thompson told the judge her brother was wrongly convicted.
"I feel like the judicial system let me down," Thompson said. "I just want you to make it right."
After sentencing, Pierce was taken away in handcuffs, smiling as his sister said, "We love you, Marty."
Lindsey had been seeing a woman who lived on Pierce's block in their Camden neighborhood and Pierce accused Lindsey of being a woman-beater. They armed themselves with guns, officials said, weeks before the shootout.
On that August afternoon, the two shot at one another on a street crowded with playing children, Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Peter Crawford said. Pierce fired the first of 30 shots let loose by the two men. When Pierce stopped shooting the 17 rounds he got off, Lindsey, who had taken cover under his girlfriend's porch on Norris Street, unloaded the rest in the direction of Pierce, who was standing next to his nephew and other children, Crawford said.
Their conduct was "beyond reckless" and "outrageous," Crawford said during each hearing, both times stopping to compose himself as he described how Brandon was "cut down" during the chaos that sent adults fleeing indoors and to the ground for cover as children scattered.
Brandon, he said, ran in circles on the sidewalk near Pierce, unsure how to protect himself.
Both men were uninjured. The boy had a gunshot wound to the head.
In March, a jury found Pierce guilty of aggravated manslaughter, attempted murder, and weapons offenses. Lindsey was found guilty of passion provocation manslaughter, attempted murder, and weapons offenses.
The jury found that Lindsey was provoked by Pierce because Pierce fired first. Under state law, provocation manslaughter carries a lighter sentence than aggravated manslaughter. The jury did not find Lindsey guilty of aggravated manslaughter, although it could have.
Pierce insists he did not fire his gun and plans to appeal his conviction, said his court-appointed attorney, Judy Cohen. And even if he did fire, it was in self-defense, the attorney said.
Marcia Soast of the Camden County Public Defender's Office said Lindsey was remorseful and noted that he testified.
The judge noted the age of the victim, the defendants' criminal histories, and a need to deter similar recklessness among her reasons for the lengthy sentences. Pierce will not be eligible for parole for 32 years. Lindsey will not be eligible for 29 years.