All Adrien Alstad's family wanted to talk about yesterday was the brother, partner and friend he had been over his 55 years, before he was gunned down last year in an early-morning robbery near Dupont Circle.
Gathered in D.C. Superior Court to see one of Alstad's youthful killers sentenced, they were flush with grief over a life lost and with memories of a life lived.
"My heart has been crushed," said his sister, Lynnette Bock, clutching her prepared statement in one trembling hand and a tissue in the other. "There is something so empty inside me."
The pleas for punishment seemed almost angry afterthoughts. But the sentencing was, after all, why they were in the courtroom.
Kurt Williams, 20 and mildly retarded, according to presentencing examinations, had been the lookout as Alstad was robbed and fatally shot Aug. 23, 2004. Alstad, a popular waiter, had just gotten off work when Williams and an accomplice accosted him. It was a crime that struck fear in a usually safe neighborhood, and it was neither the first time Williams had robbed nor the last, said the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Covell.
The killing was not, Judge Judith E. Retchin agreed, a single, "youthful act" but rather part of "a series of crimes," and it demanded the maximum 15 years that the sentencing guidelines recommend for voluntary manslaughter. She added a seven-year term for another robbery, for a total of 22 years.
Santha Sonenberg, Williams's attorney, had urged the judge to consider a host of mitigating factors detailed in a lengthy defense memorandum on Williams, of Northwest Washington.
Williams was born with cognitive impairments, was sexually and physically abused as a child and has an IQ in the mildly retarded range, according to a report submitted as part of the defense memorandum.
The judge acknowledged that Williams "had a terrible childhood" and "suffered all types of abuse." But she said that what Williams did in the days that followed Alstad's death was revealing. Not only did he commit another robbery, she noted, but when he was spotted by police, he ran.
"You knew right from wrong," Retchin said.
It was that second robbery, two nights later, again on R Street NW, that led police to Williams and his 15-year-old accomplice, who has not been publicly identified because he was charged as a juvenile. The 15-year-old pleaded guilty in a closed proceeding soon after the attack, but his sentence was not announced. The maximum penalty he faced was city supervision until he is 21.
Williams, who was 19 when he was arrested, pleaded guilty in May to manslaughter in Alstad's death and to armed robbery for the holdup two nights later.
For Alstad's relatives and friends, yesterday's sentencing took them back to a shattering moment barely a year ago.
Williams and the accomplice had accosted Alstad on R Street as he walked home from his job at Annie's Paramount Steak House. The pair demanded his money. When Alstad protested that he didn't have any cash, the younger assailant fired two or three shots, killing him.
As he did on the day he pleaded guilty, Williams apologized to his victim's family. "I understand your pain, losing a great person," he said.
Outside the courthouse, Alstad's sister said she has been too sad during the past year to be angry.
Now, she hopes Williams will find his way, which is what her brother would have wanted, she said. "He would've wanted to see that he got help," she said.
And if Williams can stay out of trouble, she said, her brother's death will not have been for nothing.