Victims accept teen’s apology
April 5, 2007 - 9:00 pm
Tracy Hilliard and her teenage daughter said they were moved Wednesday by an apology from the man charged with shooting Hilliard to steal the $26 and change in her purse and a “cheap” MP3 player the teen had been carrying.
The 32-year-old mother of four said she saw sincerity in the face of 19-year-old Dimitri Laine, who entered an Alford plea to an attempted murder charge for the June shooting. An Alford plea is not an admission of guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors could have proved their case if it went to trial.
“I accept his apology. That means a lot to me,” Hilliard said.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Brittney, told the court, “I can see how he’s got his whole life ahead of him.”
Hilliard told District Judge Ken Cory on Wednesday about the physical pain she suffered from being shot twice. The bullets damaged her liver, colon, small intestine and kidney. She described the helplessness she felt about her daughter witnessing the shooting.
Hilliard and her daughter were walking home from a store in June when the two were accosted by Laine and another man, who police alleged was Ryan Royal.
Hilliard said the shooting left her suspicious of strangers. “I don’t know what to expect of people anymore,” she said.
She said she is afraid in her own home, particularly when she hears loud noises from a nearby construction site.
Hilliard is a hairdresser, and she is on her feet all day. She uses the bus system to get around town. She said she still has pain every day in her legs and in her back, where the bullets barely missed her spine.
Cory sentenced Laine to a spend at least four years and four months or a maximum of 24 years behind bars for the shooting. He is to serve that concurrently with lesser sentences for four other robbery charges to which he pleaded guilty in 2006.
The June shooting was part of a string of robberies in the Las Vegas Valley that Laine committed with other suspects, including Calvin Moten, 16, who is serving a six- to 30-year sentence for his role in the crimes.
Prosecutor Victoria Villegas asked Cory to give Laine the same sentence of Moten had received.
Hilliard said she thought the lesser sentence meted out to Laine was fair.
“It’s a shame he (Laine) had to do something like that,” she said.
Brittney said she expected Laine to be “totally different,” and his apology to the court blew her planned statement “out of the water.”
“I can see now he’s really a great kid,” she said.
Laine asked Cory not to send him to prison for a long time. “There’s really no need,” he said, adding that he hopes to make something of his life yet.
At the time of the crime spree, he had graduated from high school, had a job, had bought a car and had a supportive family, he said.
“I’m a respectful young man, and this is not me,” he said. “I was trying to make a name for myself on the streets.”
His grandmother, who with her husband raised Laine until he was 14, stood during the entire sentencing in the courtroom.
“She raised me better than this,” Laine said. “And right now I’m letting her down.”
After nine months in jail, he has realized “that’s not the lifestyle I wish to live,” he said.
He offered to pay any restitution necessary to the victims.
Cory asked Laine if he realized “how amazing it is that they (Hilliard and her daughter) would come here and say anything decent about you?”
“That’s the kind of people it’s the court’s responsibility to protect,” Cory said.
Laine’s attorney, Osvaldo Fumo, said the sentence Laine received was about what he had hoped for.
He said Laine did not fire the shots and served only as a getaway driver for robberies his friends committed that day.
Fumo said Laine used the Alford plea instead of pleading guilty because “he just couldn’t stand there and say he did it.”
Royal, the now 18-year-old man who police allege shot Hilliard, has escaped indictment in connection with the crime.
Justice of the Peace Douglas Smith threw out prosecutors’ case against Royal.
Royal is facing a robbery charge in District Court in connection with an unrelated crime.
“We’re holding out high hope,” that Royal still will be charged with the shooting, Hilliard said.
Villegas said the case remains under investigation.
Laine initially identified Royal as the triggerman, and ballistics tests matched the bullet found in Hilliard’s body to a gun police found at the North Las Vegas home of Royal’s mother, authorities said.