Two mothers rose yesterday from opposite sides of the courtroom after the sentencing of a teenager who killed a fellow student last year at a Southeast Washington high school. They approached each other, embraced and prayed.
One was the mother of Thomas J. Boykin, 19, who had pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The other was the mother of James Richardson, his 17-year-old victim.
"I'm here every step of the way," Michelle Richardson-Patterson told Pearl Boykin, whose son had just received a 16-year prison term. "You're not going through this by yourself. It's okay, it's okay."
The Feb. 2, 2004, shooting in Ballou Senior High School was sparked by a rivalry between students from Condon Terrace and those from Barry Farm, neighborhoods that have been feuding for years. But the sentencing wasn't a time for rehashing tensions. It was a time for two mothers to speak for their sons and make peace with their shared fates.
"We just want peace," Richardson-Patterson said in prayer beside Pearl Boykin as the courtroom emptied. "We want peace for Barry Farm and Condon Terrace. We're going to stand together. Oh, God, give us peace."
Thomas Boykin has maintained that he did not intend to kill Richardson, a star football player who was shot three times, including once in the heart, during a brawl in a hallway near the school cafeteria. Boykin has said that he was fearful of the Condon Terrace students and that he panicked and fired the gun because he thought Richardson, known as J-Rock, was reaching for a weapon.
Sentencing guidelines in D.C. Superior Court recommend a term of four to 10 years for manslaughter for a defendant such as Boykin, who has no previous convictions. But prosecutors asked for a longer term because he fired inside a school full of students.
"There has to be a message sent out to those that would think about bringing a gun into a school," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Pfleger said at the sentencing.
Boykin pleaded guilty to manslaughter in March, a few months after a jury acquitted him of murder charges. He told Judge Robert I. Richter yesterday that he realized he had made the biggest mistake of his life.
Then he directed remarks to Richardson's family.
"I want the Richardson family to know that I'm very apologetic," he said. "I just want to say please forgive me for all the hurt that I have caused."
The mothers also addressed the judge. Pearl Boykin described her son as an ambitious youth who was routinely bullied at school.
"Allow my son a chance," she said haltingly to Richter. "Have mercy on my son."
Richardson-Patterson struck a note of reconciliation.
"I personally have forgiven Thomas Boykin," she said. "I am standing here asking for the mercy of the court. I'm asking for the mercy of the court to show justice. . . . Whatever the case is, you have to be held accountable."
Richter gave Boykin a 10-year term for manslaughter and an additional six years for a related weapons offense. As the judge spoke, Boykin's family and friends began to sob quietly.
"Mr. Boykin has wasted the younger years of his life," Richter said. "I am heartened by the words I've heard and hope the healing process in the community can continue."
Asked how she felt about the sentence, Richardson-Patterson said, "To God be the glory."
Outside the courtroom, Pearl Boykin held her 8-month-old granddaughter, Tajzay, the daughter of the son she calls T.J. "He never held her," she said.
Later, she spoke of the pain felt by the victim's mother. "I understand her hurt because she lost her son, and I lost my son," she said.