Wearing a pink T-shirt honoring her murdered 19-year-old son, Bobbie Alhaqq let a silence fall over the courtroom before addressing the judge.
For an emotional 10 minutes, she shared stories of love and pain about Corey Elder, sprinkling in unflattering descriptions of the five defendants who were about to be sentenced in his death Friday. Alhaqq called them young, dumb suburban drug addicts. Harmful to society. Sick people with no remorse.
And by the time Hennepin County District Judge Kerry Meyer was through with the two-hour hearing, all five defendants learned they would be spending the next decade in prison — all over a botched robbery for a bottle of 90 prescription pills and a video game.
“My son had a heart of gold and an old soul,” said Alhaqq. “Before Friday, we were fighting for justice for my son. Now we have justice, my son.”
One by one, each defendant with attorney nearby pleaded their case for leniency and asked for the family’s forgiveness in the death of Elder, who was shot in the neck during an ambush robbery at his Bloomington apartment April 26. Briana Martinson, 21, and Megan Cater, 19, put a plan in motion, recruiting whom Martinson called “my Shakopee ghetto friends” to help retrieve a lost bottle of gabapentin and a stolen Xbox.
During the robbery, Elder fought with Maurice Verser, who brought a gun. Elder dared him to pull the trigger, and was dead before police arrived. Verser will be sentenced next week.
“I was living the life of a drug addict,” Cater said in court Friday. “In honor of Corey, I can change my life around and do something positive. I wish I could go back and do what was right.”
Earl Gray, Martinson’s attorney, took issue with the prosecutor calling her the leader of planning the crime. He argued Martinson was threatened with violence if she didn’t knock on Elder’s door to get people inside.
Martinson turned slightly to speak to Noe Townsend, Elder’s girlfriend who was sitting next to him when he was shot. You are my friend and I took away your love, she said.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she said. “Drugs took me to an evil place.”
Townsend then stormed out of the courtroom and didn’t return for the rest of the hearing. About an hour earlier, she had given a tearful statement about Elder’s impact on her life. He pushed her to graduate from high school and encouraged everybody around him to do more with their lives.
“Now there are days that I just exist and can’t get out of bed,” she said. “I held him as he took his last breath. I can’t wake up from this nightmare.”
Townsend sat in the gallery with about a dozen supporters who wore the same pink T-shirt. The back of the shirt said his smile lit up a room and his dreams and goals were just starting to form. Elder, who had a unique fashion sense, told his family that “real men do wear pink.”
Elder’s grandmother Tamara Kramer said she struggled to find the words to express her rage and grief over how anybody could execute a 19-year-old man with lofty dreams.
She had taught Elder to golf, swim and kayak, and helped him find his path as he struggled with a father who abandoned him before birth.
“I will miss the music he will never make and the children he will never have,” she said. “Six people are responsible for his death. What void was in their lives that they would hurt somebody they called a friend?”
Kramer sat next to Elder’s 16-year-old sister Jamaycia Mitchell while she gave her short statement. She called Corey her male role model and said she was his little twin.
“He was like my father,” she said, grabbing a necklace that contains some of Corey’s ashes. “I’m not the same any more. People have removed themselves from my life because of how I’ve changed.”
Alhaqq recalled a son who loved to be around his cousins, a gentle and kind relative with a funny and rowdy side to his personality. He worked hard at his music career, but had a Plan B to go to technical college to learn auto mechanics, she said. Shortly before he died, the two had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. She said he understood how hard it was raising him as a single parent and he apologized for some of the difficult times in their relationship.
“Sure, he wasn’t perfect, but didn’t harm anybody in his life,” she said.
Meyer, who appeared to get a bit emotional at times during the hearing, said she had a “courtroom full of broken hearts.” She offered support to Elder’s family, saying that Corey “wouldn’t want you to lie in bed or have a life of grief.”
“I hope you find a way to move forward,” she said. “And to the five defendants, this is not the end for you, unlike Corey. You can make choices on what track this is going to take you.”
All five defendants pleaded guilty to second-degree aiding and abetting second-degree murder. Martinson and Cater received 13½-year sentences; Alec Streit, 20, who never went into Elder’s apartment the night he was killed, was given a 13-year sentence.
Noah Peterson, 21, had a connection with a friend he had known since middle school, 21-year-old Tarrance Murphy. Peterson promised Murphy cocaine and money if he’d help him rob someone. Murphy was living with Verser in his north Minneapolis apartment. Verser overheard the conversation. He wanted in and said he could get a gun.
Peterson was also sentenced to 13 years in prison. He said he knows Elder’s family will never forgive him, and “that they wish I was dead.”
Murphy was given 20 years in prison because he also pleaded guilty to a second-degree assault charge. He told the judge he was “100 percent guilty” and “no matter what I say will change what happened.”
“Honestly, I don’t know what to say,” he told the judge. “I’m so sorry for the young man who lost his life.”