Girlfriend apologizes, goes to prison for role in Gingerella homicide

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Homicide victim Joey Gingerella's family had never felt that the woman he was defending when he was fatally shot in the parking lot of a Groton pub on Dec. 11, 2016, appreciated his heroic action.

On Monday, as Latoya S. Knight was sentenced to 30 days in prison, she said she is a lost soul who is truly sorry and wishes she could have done things differently.

"If I would have known what was going to happen, trust me, it wouldn't happen," said Knight, a 36-year-old mother of six children.

Gingerella's mother, father and sister were in court with a large group of supporters and delivered victim impact statements. Knight, standing between her two lawyers with her family members behind her, began to cry. 

Her longtime companion, Dante Hughes, was convicted of manslaughter for shooting Gingerella and is serving a 45-year prison sentence.

According to testimony, Knight and Hughes started fighting inside of Ryan's Pub, and she threw her drink in his face. After they left the pub, the bartender asked Gingerella and others to check on Knight in the parking lot. Hughes was beating Knight when Gingerella, 24, known as "Jo Jo Nice" intervened and was fatally shot.

Knight misled police about Hughes' identity when she was stopped as she attempted to leave the parking lot, and texted Hughes to tell him the police were looking for him, according to prosecutor Christa L. Baker.

Called to the witness stand at Hughes' trial in the summer of 2018, Knight insisted she was drunk that night and didn't remember the details of the crime.

Knight was headed to trial earlier this month when she accepted an offer to plead guilty to second-degree hindering prosecution, a felony, in exchange for a sentence of five years in prison, suspended after 30 days served, followed by three years of conditional discharge.

Gingerella's family had been disappointed and angered that Knight did not appear grateful.

"My brother died a hero, a hero to you," said his sister, Kayla Gingerella. "He should be a hero in your eyes, but to you he's someone who should have minded his own business."

Knight's attorney, Victoria A. Pells, said one of the difficult things about criminal proceedings is that the two sides don't get to talk until sentencing. She said Knight has never expressed anything but guilt about what happened.

"She does wish Joey never jumped in to save her," Pells said. "She didn't want him to die. She didn't feel she was worth it. She is not ungrateful for Joey. She does not think he did anything wrong."

Gingerella's parents, Tammy and Joe de la Cruz, both cried as they addressed the court. This past weekend, they said, they celebrated the first birthday of their grandson, Joey, who would never get to meet the uncle for whom he is named.

Tammy de la Cruz said she has cried every day since hearing the words, "Sorry, he didn't make it."  She said her son is gone forever, and Knight is doing only 30 days behind bars.

"I have had to live without my beloved son for two years, nine months and 12 days," she said. "That is a total of 1,016 days that I haven't seen my son's smile, heard his laugh, talked to him, kissed him or hugged him."

Joe de la Cruz, who had been elected as a state representative for Groton and New London, but not yet sworn in when Gingerella was killed, said not one event in his life is the same without him. He said he hopes Knight takes the time to think about her own life.

"What scares me is when I hear someone in the community say she was not worth it," said de la Cruz. "That's not the kind of family we are."

Gingerella had struggled with addiction to opioid pain pills, and his parents had founded Community Speaks Out, a nonprofit group, to help others who struggle. He was clean when he was killed.

Judge Hillary B. Strackbein said that on the day he was killed, Gingerella had made a heroic choice to step in and help and Knight made a choice to hook up with someone who carried a gun and was criminal.

"Maybe you'll learn from this," Strackbein said. "Maybe you'll make better choices. Joey doesn't get to make any more choices."

Strackbein said Knight is to have no contact with the victim's family, no new arrests and perform 50 hours of community service while on conditional discharge.

Tammy de la Cruz is suing the owners of Ryan's Pub, claiming her son's death was caused by their reckless and negligent failure to provide security at the Fort Hill Road establishment. She said depositions in the case are scheduled for April 2020.

k.florin@theday.com

 

 

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