Christopher Suydan, bristling and vibrating with anger, unfurled his bulk from a courtroom chair and hurled words at the teenager who killed his two young children last year.
"I don't forgive you," Suydan boomed as four U.S. marshals moved to encircle Eric Palmer, 19.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Rhonda Reid Winston stopped the grieving father and asked him to address her rather than Palmer, who was sentenced yesterday to 16 years and eight months in prison for killing Suydan's children.
Palmer was fleeing a police drug sting Sept. 11 at speeds up to 80 mph before he hit Christopher Suydan Jr., 7, and Octavia Suydan, 8, so hard that they were thrown 160 feet and knocked out of their shoes. He pleaded guilty in February to two counts of second-degree murder.
The children's mother, Towhanna Boston, who came to court on her 42nd birthday to testify, countered her ex-husband's outrage with a quiet sadness. And an offer of forgiveness.
"I just want to let Eric Palmer know that even though he never apologized for taking my kids' life, I do forgive him," she told the judge.
When she said this, Suydan huffed in his courtroom seat. He fumed when he had his chance to talk, disagreeing with Boston.
Suydan, 36, said Palmer should have been charged with first-degree murder because he had committed so many offenses, including driving with a suspended license and in an unregistered car while on probation.
"I'm angry. I was angry then, I'm angry now, and I'll be angry when he gets out,'' Suydan said.
Palmer turned to the courtroom and offered a halting apology. While he was talking, Suydan left the courtroom. He returned to hear the judge's sentence, then stormed out again when it was delivered.
Suydan told the judge that after Palmer serves his prison sentence, "You'll say he's paid his debt to society. . . . He hasn't paid his debt to my family," he said.
Boston echoed Suydan's disgust at the sentence, which was less than the 24 years the prosecution had asked for. "I think the laws are too lenient," she said. "It's like a revolving door, and the crimes that Eric Palmer did may not stop after these 16 years they gave him."
Palmer's attorney, Anthony Matthews, asked for leniency in the sentencing, arguing that his client had been impulsive and was not out to kill anyone that day. "The only difference between me and Eric Palmer and a lot of people hearing my voice now . . . is dumb luck."
Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Soroka said the crime wasn't about immaturity or impulse because "Mr. Palmer had so many chances not to do what he did."
Palmer had driven right into the middle of a police drug sting that day in the 600 block of Orleans Place NE. He wasn't the target but fled when he saw police because he had been in court three days earlier, accused of violating probation on a drug charge. The judge warned Palmer that he would be jailed if he got into any more trouble.
In Temple Hills that morning, Suydan had picked up his children at their mother's house and was on his way to his employer's picnic in Howard County when he stopped to run some errands in Northeast Washington.
When they were in the 1200 block of Florida Avenue NE, the family crossed the street to get snacks at a convenience store. They waited for the walk signal to begin flashing before crossing.
Halfway across, Suydan let his kids go ahead of him, and Palmer's Honda came flying through the intersection.