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CLEVELAND (AP) — Convicted of murder, Geoffrey Gurkovich stood before a judge in Cleveland on Tuesday and wept as he tried to describe his sorrow and stupidity for having shot and killed a 5-year-old girl as she was sitting in a car with her mom last January.
"If I could take my life to bring her back, I would do it 100 times over," said Gurkovich, who was then sentenced to 26 years to life in prison.
The 33-year-old man pleaded guilty last month to murder for killing Jermani Brooks and to two counts of felonious assault for shooting her mother in the head and exposing her brother, Cameron, to the violence.
"I wish I could take that pain away," Gurkovich said. "But I can't, and I have to live with that."
Earlier in the hearing, the girl's mother, Noni Brooks, described photographs of Jermani, a fashion-forward kindergartner, pasted to poster board. Gurkovich looked away, a blank expression on his face.
Brooks said it's been difficult to adjust after losing sight in her right eye from the bullet wound.
"I can live with my injury," she told the judge through her tears. "But I'd give anything just to hold my baby again."
In court, the defense lawyer gave an account of what happened that day.
Gurkovich, who has a long criminal record, was on probation at the time of the shootings and was estranged from his girlfriend and her 2-year-old son. On the morning of Jan. 19, he received a text from the girlfriend telling him that a man they both knew had harassed and threatened her and her son at a gas station. The girlfriend described the SUV the man was riding in. It was an SUV owned by Brooks.
That night, Brooks' boyfriend drove her and their three children in her SUV over to the house of the man who Gurkovich's girlfriend said had threatened her and her son. Brooks' boyfriend got out of the dark-windowed SUV and began roughhousing with the man. At that point, Gurkovich pulled up in his vehicle and fired shots into Brooks' SUV, striking Jermani and her mother.
Gurkovich told the judge Tuesday he didn't know that anyone was inside the vehicle and learned later that the estranged girlfriend's story was a lie and that no one had harassed her that day.
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