Beatrice Brown was trying to get from Florida to St. Paul on Thursday morning to tell the judge what it meant that her son Sean D. Gibbs was killed, but she was stuck in an airport. Gibbs' father, of Madrid, Spain, couldn't come either.

But sisters of each gave eloquent statements on behalf of the young man who was called "the light of our lives."

Antonio Thelen, 32, was sentenced by Ramsey County District Judge J. Thomas Mott to 25 1/2 years for fatally shooting Gibbs, 21, early Aug. 18 near the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.

Thelen must serve at least 17 years in prison before he is eligible for supervised release. He was convicted in April of two counts of second-degree murder.

"Mr. Thelen wreaked havoc on our family," said Kerri Allen, Gibbs' paternal aunt. "He has not shown remorse, and he went so far as to blame the victim ... in his testimony. ... It is time that he is held accountable for his actions."

According to court documents and testimony, Gibbs and his on-again, off-again girlfriend happened to drive by a house in the 200 block of Forbes Avenue in St. Paul where Thelen and his friends were partying in the wee hours of Aug. 18.

Thelen followed the car Gibbs was riding in and the two men -- who did not know each other -- exchanged angry words at a red light at Smith Avenue and Kellogg Boulevard. Gibbs, Thelen and Joshua C. Hanes, who was riding with Thelen, got out of their cars and Gibbs was shot.

Hanes, 19, pleaded guilty to aiding an offender and agreed to testify against Thelen. He was sentenced last month to up to 20 years on probation.

Prosecutor Jill Gerber said Thelen admitted in the pre-sentence investigation that he and the mother of his youngest child were both regular meth users. He admitted being a gang member, hasn't had a job since 2003 and is $40,000 in arrears on child support, she said.

"The defendant claimed he has no anger control issues but in his criminal history he has domestic assault, gun charges, fleeing from police and now murder."

Defense attorney Richard Sarette said that while Thelen has had "some skirmishes with the law," he does not have a "significant criminal background." He said Thelen maintains it was Hanes who killed Gibbs, and he plans to appeal the verdict.

Judge Mott said the victim-impact letters from Gibbs' family were "among the most thoughtful, articulate, poignant and touching" he has received in his 20-some years on the bench.

The letters "make it clear how much Mr. Gibbs meant to his family but also to the world."

Tears rolled from Angelina Brown's eyes Thursday as she told the court that her nephew could "always find a way to make you laugh.

"We feel cheated," she said.

Pat Pheifer • 651-298-1551