GOSHEN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A man has been sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for a fatal mass shooting at a Halloween party last year.
Nija Johnson, 18, pleaded guilty to the shooting that killed 18-year-old Omani Free and 20-year-old Tabitha Cruz and left five others injured in Newburgh on Oct. 30, 2016.
Johnson shuffled into the courtroom to face a room full of his victims’ advocates Thursday and offered an apology at his sentencing that left many cold, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.
“I apologize,” Johnson said.
“It was empty literally it didn’t mean anything because it wasn’t heartfelt,” said Sharon Simpkin, whose son was injured in the shooting.
“I don’t accept his apology because he didn’t show any remorse,” Miguel Cruz, Tabitha’s father, said. “To this day I still miss my daughter.”
“He didn’t mean nothing he said, if he really meant it he wouldn’t have did it. All I can say is what happens to him in prison I don’t feel sorry for him,” a man said outside the courthouse.
But there was talk of forgiveness from two grieving mothers, Young reported.
“I do forgive him, but he deserves to be in prison,” Omani’s mother Rhonda Free said.
“It’s too late, but I accept it,” Tabitha’s mother Jeannette Drake said.
The sentence is two consecutive terms of 20 years to life for the murders, meaning he serves a full 40 years before being eligible for parole.
The prosecutor says an unreleased cellphone video of the crime underlines the inexplicable callousness of what he did.
“He took out the weapon, there was nobody else with a weapon that was out, he advanced on unarmed people who were panicked and held the weapon out, appeared to be aiming it, and repeatedly fired it multiple times at multiple people and only stopped when he was forcibly disarmed by someone,” Assistant Orange County District Attorney Christopher Borek said.
In court, Judge Craig Brown held up a thick pile of impact letters about the victims and the five surviving victims, one of whom is permanently paralyzed.
Brown said that stack of letters will go with Johnson to prison to be read by the parole board when it first considers his release in 2057.
Outside the courthouse, there were tears and the release of balloons in the favorite colors of Cruz and Free who died in the barrage of bullets.
In his confession, Johnson said he was aiming for someone with whom he’d previously fought.