CHICAGO — A Chicago man convicted in the 2009 videotaped beating death of a high school honors student was sentenced to 32 years in prison on Tuesday, the fourth of five defendants in the case to receive lengthy terms behind bars.
Eugene Riley, 20, could have walked away from the 2009 attack on 16-year-old Derrion Albert, but instead, he jumped out of his car, grabbed a wooden board and slammed it into the high school sophomore's head while he was lying prone on the ground, Cook County Assistant State's Attorney James Papa said.
"He set in motion the whole chain that ultimately led to Derrion Albert's murder," Papa said.
In a cellphone video that circulated worldwide after it was posted online, Derrion's attackers are seen punching and kicking him, slamming him over the head with large boards and finally, stomping on his head. The attack occurred on a street a few blocks from Derrion's school on the city's South Side.
As with every other sentencing over the past several months, the teen's relatives read statements to Judge Nicholas Ford, trying to convey what the defendants took from them when they descended on Derrion that afternoon and killed him.
"We will never be able to see what Derrion would have become," said Mary Albert, an aunt.
Riley apologized in court Tuesday, reading from a piece of yellow legal paper.
"I asked the Lord to forgive me for the actions that I took," he said, adding that he still wants to make something of his life and hopes to steer others away from the kinds of decisions he made.
But Derrion's family, all of whom sat impassively during Riley's statement, suggested that Riley was only saying what he thought he had to say to a judge who held his fate in his hands.
"I could accept a sincere apology but it didn't seem sincere," Derrion's grandfather, Norman Golliday, said.
One of the five defendants pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the case, and juries had little trouble convicting the other four of the same charge after repeatedly being shown the video footage. For each of the three others charged as adults, Ford imposed prison sentences of at least a quarter-century. The juvenile was ordered confined to a detention center until he is 21 years old – with a possibility that he could serve 30 years in prison as an adult if he breaks any rules during his detention center stint.
Only one of the five, Lapolean Colbert, still awaits sentencing. His hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Derrion's mother addressed the court and said her son should be remembered for more than the attack that killed him. She said she is still grieving, but she's grateful for the city's efforts to beef up security at schools and bus stops after the attack.
"It shouldn't have taken my son to lose his life," Anjanette Albert told reporters after the hearing.
Albert, who has declined to comment after each of the previous sentencing hearings, explained she decided to speak out because she did not want her son to be remembered only for the last moments of his life.
"I'd rather people hear his name and see something positive than to only know him from that tape," she said. "It's important to me for people to know that he was somebody, that he was loved."