It looked as if Arkeeta Hendrick wanted to turn around, to face the mother of Terry Hairston, the man she had murdered.
But standing in court yesterday, her own face streaked with tears, she couldn't, so she simply blurted out her last few words, the ones she wanted Mia Hairston-Hamilton to hear.
"Mrs. Hairston," she said, "I'm sorry."
On an afternoon swollen with sadness, the words of Hendrick, as she was about to learn her fate, only brought more tears and sobs.
Seated across from each other in D.C. Superior Court, the Hairston and Hendrick families found themselves both in sorrow yesterday, one pleading for punishment, the other asking for mercy.
Once a member of the D.C. school board, Hairston, 38, was planning a political comeback when he was killed May 15, 2004, shot in his home on Burns Street SE in what investigators concluded was a botched robbery.
Hairston had been hoping to reenter politics, trying to put his life back on track after the bumps that followed his departure from the school board in 1998. A day earlier, he had filed papers to run for the D.C. Council seat for Ward 7.
The bizarre encounter ended that dream.
It was Hendrick, prosecutors said, who fired the fatal shot as her accomplice, Dannielle Wayne, struggled with Hairston in the early morning hours of that Saturday.
Both of the 22-year-old women, of Northeast Washington, had turned up at Hairston's home to socialize, or so they led him to believe. Wayne had met Hairston a few times, she told investigators, and thought he was interested in her. Alcohol and marijuana were apparently in the mix. Having fun, however, was not the women's true intention. They were there, prosecutors said, to rob Hairston, and they were armed.
Hairston put up a fight, and as he tried to fend off Wayne, Hendrick shot him, striking him once under his right armpit. Hours later, he was found dead by a friend who had been sent over by family members. Hairston had been expected at a relative's graduation ceremony but never made it.
It wasn't like him to miss special events, they have said, and they feared something was wrong.
They were right.
And in court yesterday, their grief, although more than a year old, still felt raw.
"Neither of them attempted to call to get help," Hairston's mother told Judge Rhonda Reid Winston, "but they both returned to the scene . . . to clean up behind themselves."
Indeed, the women covered their tracks and tried to elude authorities. Only months later, after a fingerprint from Hairston's rental car was linked to Wayne, did investigators zero in on her and Hendrick.
Arrested on Sept. 22, the two women gave false accounts of what happened, each trying to blame the other, prosecutors said. Eventually, Hendrick admitted that she was the shooter, and in April, the women pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Wayne is to be sentenced tomorrow.
Standing next to her attorney, Rudolph Acree, Hendrick offered no excuses.
"What I did was wrong," she told the judge. "It was evil and it was wrong."
The judge said Hendrick knew better, adding, "There was just no reason you should have been involved."
But she was, Reid Winston said, and for that Hendrick must be punished. Under the law, the maximum penalty is 40 years; under voluntary sentencing guidelines, the recommended range is 12 to 24 years.
The judge sentenced her to 16 years in prison.