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The ripple effects of violent crime were on display in a New London courtroom Tuesday, when 22-year-old Evan J. Holmes was sentenced to 70 years in prison for killing Jorge "Loco" Rosa in his Montauk Avenue bedroom two years ago.
In a heart-rending statement to the court, the victim's 8-year-old daughter, Gianna Rosa, spoke of how she'll never be able to ride on her father's shoulders again and lamented that he won't be around to coach her in basketball, an opportunity the 25-year-old Rosa had relished.
"My mommy told me only God can take someone away from you, but why did Evan? He's not God," she said.
Hearing the first few sentences of their niece's victim impact statement, Rosa's two stocky and streetwise brothers had to step out of the courtroom to regain their composure. The young girl with the butterfly T-shirt and braids hanging down her back so closely resembles her father that her family calls her his "twin."
The crime also devastated Holmes' family, but, as Rosa's mother, Bridget Feliciano, pointed out in her statement to the court, they will still be able to see him and hear his voice. Holmes' mother, Desiree Phillipi, stood up and begged Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed to impose a sentence that would make her son eligible for parole at an age where he could still contribute to society.
Jongbloed expressed sympathy to both families, saying the case was a tragedy for everyone involved. She handed down a sentence that she said was a direct result of the decisions Holmes had made.
"Shooting a person in his bed in this way is just about as violent a crime as anyone can commit," the judge said.
Jongbloed sentenced Holmes to 58 years in prison for felony murder. He won't be eligible for parole until he is nearly 80 years old. She added 12 years, to run consecutively, for home invasion. Ten of those 12 years are the mandatory minimum sentence. She also sentenced him to 12 years in prison, to run concurrently with the other sentences, for conspiracy to commit home invasion and another five years, concurrent, for criminal possession of a firearm.
According to testimony at Holmes' trial in October, he and his close friend, Davion Smith, forced their way into Holmes' Montauk Avenue apartment in New London during the early morning hours of Nov. 12, 2011. Holmes had been involved in a fight with Rosa's roommate Todd "T.O." Silva a short time earlier at a downtown after-hours club. Silva was not home. Holmes entered Rosa's bedroom, where Rosa was asleep with Holmes' ex-girlfriend. Holmes shot Rosa 10 times. He died a short time later.
Holmes testified on his own behalf at the trial, admitting he was at the crime scene but blaming another man for the shooting. At his sentencing, Holmes made it clear that he intends to appeal.
"Your misguided resentment toward me saddens me," he told Rosa's family. "You've been led to believe a lot of things under false pretenses. I maintain that me and Davion are not responsible. We did not hurt your son."
Holmes was arrested hours after the shooting at an Old Saybrook hotel. Evidence at the trial included testimony from his ex-girlfriend, Gabriella Gonzalez, who said she woke up to see Holmes and Smith at the foot of her and Rosa's bed, and that Holmes asked Rosa who he was before shooting him. Forensic experts testified that Holmes' DNA was present in blood smears collected from the comforter on Rosa's bed and from walls and floors in the apartment building.
Senior Assistant State's Attorney Paul J. Narducci, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State's Attorney Sarah Bowman and inspector Timothy Pitkin, said Holmes had committed a cowardly and vicious act and shows no remorse to this day. Narducci called on the judge to impose a lengthy sentence, saying he hoped it would deter other young people from killing. He also said Holmes' prospect for rehabilitation is slim, given that he had just been through the criminal justice system when he committed this crime. Narducci said Holmes needs to be locked away in the interest of public safety.
"Mr. Holmes cannot be in a position where he's out doing this again to society," Narducci said.
Holmes had been released from prison eight days before Rosa's death. He had served an 18-month sentence for shooting New London teenager Idris Elahi, whom he had known for years, in April 2010. According to testimony in that case, Holmes was trying to resolve a fight between two groups of people when he fired a shot into the ground and Elahi was struck in the foot.
Elahi survived the shooting, and six months later, on Oct. 29, 2010, accepted a dare from one of his friends as they sat in his bedroom and planned a random attack on a stranger. The six teens targeted 25-year-old Matthew Chew as their victim, jumping him as he walked home from work on Huntington Street, and Elahi fatally stabbed Chew. Elahi is serving a 35-year prison sentence for murder, and the others are serving sentences ranging from eight to 15 years.
Holmes said he had come out of prison with a "fresh perspective" on life, but the 12-member jury apparently did not believe his story. They found him not guilty of murder, which includes the element of intent, but guilty of the lesser offense of first-degree manslaughter with a firearm. The jury also found him guilty of felony murder, which holds that he killed someone in the commission of another crime, as well as home invasion, conspiracy to commit home invasion and first-degree burglary. The judge had found him guilty, additionally, of illegal possession of a pistol by a previously convicted felon.
In handing down the sentence, the Judge Jongbloed vacated the manslaughter and first-degree burglary charges because they were lesser included offenses to the felony murder and home invasion charges.
Holmes' attorney, William T. Koch Jr., said that even if the jury did not believe Holmes, the panel still had a problem with the case, since they found Holmes not guilty of murder.
"From the defense table, we still have the issue that Mr. Holmes would shoot somebody he didn't know," Koch said.
Holmes' family left the courtroom silently after the sentencing, while Rosa's relatives stayed behind to exchange hugs and thanks with the people who had helped them navigate the court system, including the state's attorneys, Victim Advocate Beth Ann Hess and New London Police Detectives Richard Curcuro and Matthew Galante.
Smith, Holmes' co-defendant, remains incarcerated, and his charges are pending in the same court.