Gennaro Knox was 16, the oldest of three children living with their single mom in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis. He attended school, played sports and worked at a job to help supplement the household income. He never gave his mom any trouble, didn't even have his driver's license yet.

"Seldom have I seen such senseless waste of young life," Hennepin County District Judge Denise Reilly said before she sentenced 21-year-old Jeremy Jackson to life without possibility of parole. It was Jackson's second trial for the murder of Knox, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time on Oct. 5, 2006.

"Every day, I keep looking at the door thinking he's going to walk in like he used to do, with a big smile on his face," said Gennaro's mother, Carol Knox.

Jackson, a member of the Rolling 30s Bloods gang, shot Knox three times in the neck and head as he biked with a friend in the 2400 block of Elliot Avenue S. Jackson and others had been driving around south Minneapolis in an attempt to avenge the shooting of a Bloods member earlier in the evening.

In addition to Knox's murder, Jackson was convicted of attempted murder for shooting a woman who was waiting for a bus. James Morris also was convicted in the shootings and has been sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Jackson stood before Reilly in orange jail attire with his arms folded across his chest. She asked if he wanted to comment. "No," he said. As he left the courtroom, one young woman yelled, "We love you, Pooh."

First trial ended in hung jury

Jackson has maintained his innocence and it took two trials to convict him. The first trial in September resulted in a hung jury. At the end of the second trial in December, a jury took only an hour to convict him. Some of his family members left the room in anger during Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

"It took us two times, but justice was done," Assistant County Attorney Hillary Caligiuri said after the sentencing. "That's the bottom line with this case -- it was a long haul, but the jury got it right."

Four people gave statements on behalf of Gennaro Knox, including his mother. All told the tale of a neighborhood, still home to proud working families, but also beset by gang turf violence.

Carol Knox said the killing ripped her life apart. "I stayed on my kids all the time. My other son doesn't even have a police record; he's about to turn 16," she said. "There is no amount of words that I can put on paper to tell my true feelings."

She said she's now working to forgive Jackson "because I refuse to take this to the grave with me."

'A generational curse'

Gennaro's cousin Alicia Marshall wore a T-shirt with a picture of him and the words, "He had a dream, too." She and his aunt Darleen McPhersen spoke of the sadness at the loss, not just of Gennaro but of once-thriving streets and youths who fall into gang life.

"It seems a generational curse. We know these people. We walk with these people. When does it stop?" Marshall asked.

"We took great pride in what's now reduced to the territory of the Rolling 30s Bloods," McPhersen said. "This was a good Minneapolis neighborhood for many years."

But now, she said, people are afraid to wear red or blue for fear they might be mistaken for gang affiliates.

Reilly called the case one of the saddest she has seen in her 10 years on the bench. She told Jackson, "I think you had a lot of potential, but you joined a gang instead."

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747