Telling a Prince William Circuit Court judge that he "deserves to be punished" for his brutal crime, Eddie C. Andrews publicly apologized Thursday for shooting and killing his wife's brother after an argument in September 1998.
Andrews, who took responsibility for the death of Rodney L. Smith Jr. by pleading guilty to first-degree murder in July, was ordered to serve 31 years and 8 months in prison Thursday after Smith's relatives spoke of their loss and the grief Andrews had caused. Andrews, 25, said that he "would do anything to change what he did," describing Smith as a good friend who shared a home with Andrews and his wife, Laverne.
"I did something that does strike fear into your hearts, that says that there are people out there who could do something like this," Andrews said, directing his comments to the community at large. "For that, I am sorry."
Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter sentenced Andrews to 60 years in prison but suspended almost half of the sentence, meeting the midpoint of state sentencing guidelines. Although Andrews could have been sentenced to life in prison, prosecutors recommended the lighter sentence as part of a plea agreement.
Smith was shot 13 times in the back and chest on the morning of Sept. 1, 1998, in the parking lot of a Manassas Park town house community. It was the city's first fatal shooting since 1985.
Andrews said that he shot Smith out of fear after Smith appeared to make a sudden move, which Andrews thought might have been to grab a weapon. Andrews said he then shot Smith as Smith ran away, then straddled Smith as he lay on the ground and emptied his gun into Smith's chest.
According to testimony, Smith had threatened Andrews a week earlier, placing a gun to his head after learning that Andrews had allegedly hit Laverne Andrews, who is Smith's sister. Andrews told the court that he became frightened and borrowed a gun from a friend to protect himself before going to Smith's residence and killing him.
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul B. Ebert challenged Andrews about that fear, asking him why he didn't go to the police when he became frightened rather than taking the law into his own hands.
"I will submit that if he was that frightened, he never would have gone back to the place where the source of that fear resided," Ebert said, extending his comments to describe how Andrews repeatedly shot Smith. "That was an act of a man who harbors hate. It's not the act of a man in fear."
Robert F. Horan III, Andrews's attorney, said at Thursday's hearing that Andrews "was a good man" until this one incident. Horan said that Andrews was stable and intelligent, holding down a $38,500-a-year job with Visa and raising a family with his wife.
After the incident, Andrews called his boss, his mother and then 911, telling police about what he had done and leading police to where he had dumped the murder weapon.
Rodney L. Smith Sr. testified Thursday that losing his son was like losing a best friend and that he feels Andrews deserves severe punishment but also forgiveness.
"Eddie, I feel sorry for you, I really do," Smith said at the hearing. "But you have to understand what you have done. You have to realize that you have destroyed, mentally and physically, a family that tried to love you."
Even Andrews's mother told the court that she believed her son needed to be sentenced to serious time in prison.
"A person must pay for the crime they have committed," Anita Davis said. "They must be punished for what they have done wrong."