The man convicted of murdering a woman and wounding two others in a 2011 Midtown shooting spree was sentenced to life without parole plus 65 years in prison Thursday.
“This I do find to be by the nature of the act of on July 15, 2011, to be very random, very hate-filled, very heinous, very vile,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly A. Lee said as she handed Nkosi Thandiwe his life sentence for killing Brittney Watts, and injuring Tiffany Ferenczy and Lauren Garcia, leaving Garcia paralyzed from the waist down.
The 23-year-old Thandiwe sat stone-faced as Lee made her ruling. Victims’ families released a collective sigh, while those in court to support him dropped their heads.
Before Lee gave her sentence, Brittney Watts’ husband struggled through tears to ask the judge for the maximum sentence for Thandiwe.
“I’ve mourned Brittney for the last 568 days,” he said. “I realize the worst day of my life is in my past … But I also realize the best days of my life are, too.”
Brian Watts brushed told the judge and jury how only a month before his wife’s death, the couple moved back to Atlanta from Tampa and into his wife’s dream house with the plans of starting a family.
“He took everything from me … my soulmate, the family we were going to have,” Brian Watts said. He said he found himself looking forward “to the day that I die so that I can be with Brittney again.”
Thandiwe’s mother, Lynnae Thandiwe, pleaded with the judge for mercy.
“He’s not the ‘Midtown Shooter,’” she said. “He’s not a monster. It’s not consistent with who Nkosi is. Nothing can be gained by putting him in jail for the rest of his life.”
Thandiwe, 23, was accused of fatally shooting Watts in the neck in a Midtown parking deck as she left her office for lunch, then taking her car, apparently hitting her body as he pulled away, and firing into a crowd of women that included Garcia and Ferenczy walking along Crescent Street as he sped off.
“He told you he shot Brittney Watts, Lauren Garcia and Tiffany Ferenczy because he had adopted all these racist ideals,” Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Linda Dunikoski said to the jury, referring to Thandiwe’s testimony on Wednesday. “If race disorder was a [mental illness], then the Ku Klux Klan could murder and kill with impunity.”
Public defender Wes Bryant borrowed from the prosecutor’s opening statement to suggest that Thandiwe may have been out of his mind when he shot the women.
The jury took about 30 minutes to find him guilty of all the counts against him and the sentencing phase of the trial began immediately. He was charged with murder, felony murder – causing a death during the commission of a felony – several counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, carjacking and gun offenses.
Thandiwe’s two surviving victims then added to Brian Watts’ description the shooting spree’s impact.
“I remember feeling the bullet hit my back,” Garcia said. “I remember the moment between feeling my legs and the stark contrast that followed.”
The UGA grad said she went through months of painful rehabilitation, learning to function as a paraplegic. And she married her then-boyfriend soon after the shooting.
She now works full-time for the Midtown advertising agency she was interning with when she was shot, but says private moments of sorrow still lie deep beneath the picture of resilience so many of her loved ones and supporters celebrate.
“I am a victim of a meaningless crime who has a grim outlook on life and her very best days behind her,” Garcia said.
Ferenczy, who was shot in the leg, told the judge she was plagued by nightmares of that day.
“I wake up every night with flashbacks,” she said before lamenting how seemingly thoughtlessly Thandiwe took Watts’ life. “Her life should’ve been valued. My life should’ve been valued. Lauren’s life should’ve been valued.”
Despite descriptions of Thandiwe’s life as extraordinary and kind young man, and pleas from friends and loved ones that he be given a chance to rehabilitate, Lee sided with her reservations that he could change.
“I do have concerns that on any given day in the future he could have another relapse,” she said. “And I’m concerned about his lack of remorse.”
Before closing arguments, Lee dismissed a juror who, during lunch on Wednesday, approached a TV crew and told them which case he was hearing.
“Based on your contact yesterday, and my concerns with your lack of forthrightness, I am dismissing you,” she said to the man. “Please don’t disrupt this process any more than you already have.”
He was asked to gather all of his things and leave the courthouse. An alternate – there are two who have listened to all of the evidence – was identified to replace the ousted juror.