One after another, the family members of Otahl Saunders, his girlfriend, Maria McLay, and her 15-year-old daughter, Brittany Kekedakis, stood before a federal judge Monday and told about life after the murders.

They recalled the terror of hearing screams as two men with guns burst into their home on St. Paul's North End on March 23, 2007.

Jason Moore, 12, and Daneisha "Shay" Thomas, 15, described the gurgling sounds their mother and sister made as they gasped for air after being shot, and how McLay squeezed Shay's hand and tried to reassure her that everything would be all right.

Through tears and sniffles, the survivors persisted as the two men convicted in the killings stared hard at a table.

Even U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen had to pause for a tissue before she sentenced Tyvarus Lee Lindsey, 29, and Rashad Raleigh, 33, to three consecutive life terms in prison.

"No one gets more than one life to live," Ericksen told Lindsey. "You will be spending yours in prison because of these murders."

Raleigh shrugged when she said the same to him.

Otahl Saunders Jr. had told Ericksen that the day Lindsey and Raleigh had invaded their home was his personal 9/11.

"My father, he was my twin. What's a twin without the other?" the 15-year-old said. "At times, I don't want to live. I see myself sitting in the same ground with him ... but I know God has put me here for a reason."

"I don't think it is necessary for me to share with the court how lonely and painful life is for me since the triple homicide," Saunders' mother, Beth Hill, told Ericksen. "As a mother, I know you can see and feel my pain."

Ericksen commended the young survivors for the way they handled themselves.

Defendants deny guilt

When they'd said their piece, Ericksen took a short break and then had defendants Lindsey and Raleigh -- both of St. Paul -- brought back into the courtroom one at a time.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Paulsen and Chris Wilton urged back-to-back life sentences to recognize the three lives they took, plus 10 years on a related gun charge. Nothing short of that would serve justice, they said over the defense attorneys' objections.

Lindsey gave his statement first.

"First and foremost, I want to send my deepest condolences out to the family and friends," he said, turning to face the audience packed hip and shoulder on the hard benches. "I'm not sorry for anything I've personally done. I would have never, ever hurt a child, or hang with a person who does," he said.

Lindsey, known as "Little Stick," went on to excoriate law enforcement for leaking his name to the media, which he said gave "jailhouse snitches" the ammo they needed to implicate him in hopes of making deals on their own crimes.

"I'm mad at the justice system. I'm disappointed in my family for not standing up for me. I could never get a fair trial in the state of Minnesota," Lindsey told the judge. "I'm going to do whatever it takes to prove my innocence and that these people [who said otherwise] are liars."

Raleigh, known as "Shoddy," took a similar line. "My heart goes out to the family," he said, "but I can't apologize for something I didn't do. He blamed his conviction on a racist "injustice system" and said the court couldn't take anything from him because he has nothing.

Ericksen sentenced each man to 10 years on the gun charge, to be followed by three consecutive life terms.

Family, feds are satisfied

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said in a statement, "While all violent crime is despicable, this particular act was even more abhorrent because it involved ... the cold-blooded killing of three people in front of two children.

"Those responsible for that heinous behavior deserve the toughest of sentences, and that's what they got. Of course, the court's action will not restore the lives of the victims or their families, but, hopefully, it will provide them with a sense of justice served."

The victims' family members and friends hugged one another after the verdict, and said they were gratified that they can now move forward with their lives.

It was just after 6:30 a.m. on that March morning when masked men wearing black kicked in the back door looking for drugs and money. The men tortured Saunders, using tin snips, before shooting him. They forced McLay and her children to lie face down on the floor in another bedroom before Raleigh shot her and Kekedakis. Shay and Jason were 10 and 7 at the time.

Investigation took years

It took years to find witnesses willing to testify about Raleigh's and Lindsey's involvement. They were indicted in January 2010.

The men are already in prison for other murders.

In December 2007, nine months after the North End killings, Lindsey was sentenced to 36 years for the 2005 killing of a man whose SUV he tried to steal. Raleigh pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the May 2007 beating death of former basketball player-turned-probation officer Howard Porter. He is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for that crime.

Ericksen said the federal sentences would be concurrent with the state sentences. She said she did that for technical reasons so it would be easier for the Bureau of Prisons to collect $19,500 from the two men's prison pay as restitution for funeral expenses.

"It's all over," Saunders' mother said as she left the courtroom.

McLay's daughter said she's been trying to put the murders behind her since she testified at the trial. Finally, she can do that. "It feels really good," she said. "Amazing!"

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493