I spotted the little girl as soon as I got off the elevator on the seventh floor at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in downtown Oakland. She looked about 7.
She was with adult family members and friends of Lawrence Denard and Willie Torrence -- the two men convicted of killing 3-year-old Carlos Nava in a drive-by shooting and wounding two rival gang members Aug. 8, 2011.
The group had congregated outside the courtroom during a break in the sentencing proceedings.
Instead of being outside playing on a summer day, this child was hanging out in a grim waiting area of the courthouse. I don't know what her relationship was to the defendants.
You often see young children in the hallways at the courthouse while criminal trials are going on. (Children are not allowed inside the courtroom in Oakland.)
Exposure to such an unhealthy environment at an early age I'm sure contributes to an early belief in and acceptance of interactions with the criminal justice system as a normal way of life.
I wonder whether Denard, 29, and Torrence, 25, also spent time in criminal courthouses as children. The dark path that led each of these men to a more than century-long prison sentence started somewhere.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner clearly intended to send a strong message last week in meting out the sentences of the two men convicted of killing Carlos in his stroller on a busy public street in a case that came to epitomize the horror of Oakland's gun homicide epidemic.
Denard, the convicted shooter, got 137 years. Torrence, who a jury found drove the car alongside International Boulevard so Denard could fire a Glock from the passenger side, got 121 years. According to prosecutors, they were trying to kill two gang rivals, who were wounded in the attack but survived. Carlos was struck in the neck as his mother pushed him in his stroller from the store.
"It's hard to imagine having a higher degree of cruelty and callousness than firing at least 10 shots from a semi-automatic pistol at unarmed vulnerable victims in a crowded area in the middle of the day," Horner said. "Carlos had no chance at all."
I looked at Denard and Torrence sitting in their red Alameda County jail jumpsuits and wondered, what was going through their minds? Anger? Fear? Regret? They committed a monstrous act -- at least a jury ruled they did -- but they are still human beings with emotions.
The courtroom was packed with the men's supporters. One woman sobbed. A man stood up and rushed out of the courtroom. Meanwhile, Carlos' mother Maria Teresa Nava who had cradled her dying son in her arms, sat stoically next to her mother in the second row. She had written a letter to the court asking for a long sentence "so they will not be free to do this to another unfortunate family."
The men's lawyers claimed they were not part of a gang -- despite the gang tattoos on their bodies. Authorities found letters in their jail cells -- evidence that they were trying to get their associates to intimidate witnesses who were talking to the police. A document recovered from Denard's cell said, "no face, no case."
One of the most damning pieces of evidence was a video of Denard that police recovered from his cell phone. It was shot 50 minutes before the International Boulevard shooting. In it, Denard is waving a Glock and threatening to kill his enemies. He was on parole at the time for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Prosecutor Ben Beltramo said authorities believe the gun was the same one that Denard used in the shooting, though the murder weapon was never recovered.
Anne Beles, Denard's attorney, maintains his innocence and intends to appeal.
Beles tried to get the cell phone video ruled inadmissible in her motion for a new trial.
Her argument went something like this. Last month in Riley v. California, the Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant to search the contents of a person's cell phone during an arrest. That decision should apply retroactively to Denard even though it wasn't law when he was arrested. The judge wasn't buying it.
Denard has a young daughter who is close to the age that Carlos would have been today.
A little boy is dead. A little girl will never again see her father outside of a prison visiting room.
Justice may have been served, but there are no winners.
Tammerlin Drummond is a columnist for the Bay Area News Group. Her column runs Tuesday and Sunday. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at Twitter.com/tammerlin.