Metkel Alana, 26, was sentenced Tuesday to 44 years in prison for the Sept. 16, 2004 murder of a Pizza Hut delivery man and a subsequent robbery on South Lee Street.
On March 15, Alana entered an Alford plea in response to a series of charges regarding a September crime spree that included auto theft, murder, robbery and several firearm charges.
A defendant who enters an Alford plea admits that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict, without admitting guilt. The court may then impose a sentence as if the defendant had been convicted of the crime.
During the sentencing hearing in Alexandria Circuit Court, Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel presented the husband of a woman who was terrorized by Alana during the robbery and the wife of the slain Pakistani man who will have to raise nine children without a father.
Public Defender Melinda Douglas called several family members who testified to Alana's troubled childhood and a social worker that testified that he suffered from "complex post-traumatic stress disorder."
Alana read an apology to the victims of his crimes and their family members, insisting that while he was a party to murder, he did not pull the trigger.
"I know how it feels to lose someone you love," Alana said. "I hope that you will never have to see mankind at its worst like that again."
In the end, Judge John Kloch told Alana that he would "judge from the facts, not what you pled," adding that "the facts presented belie your innocence."
Kloch then sentenced Alana to 44 years.
Alana's court-appointed lawyer plans to appeal the decision.
Antowaun Lynch, Alana's co-conspirator, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.
SENGEL BEGAN by calling the husband of the Old Town robbery victim, who testified how Alana terrorized his wife. Alana entered the house in the 800 block of South Lee Street and held the wife hostage while he robbed the house of a diamond ring, a necklace and her wallet.
"Before this happened, my wife was a very confident, effervescent and self-assured person," he said. "The woman I knew before the 16th of September is not the same person I'm married to today."
"Frankly, I came to the conclusion that we could no longer live there," he said.
Musharad Hassred, the wife of the Musharaf Shah, who was murdered while delivering pizza in Old Town, also testified in court. Through a translator, she told the story of how her husband had come to America to provide a better education for their children. After losing his job at the Embassy of Pakistan, he took several other jobs to make ends meet for his family—including delivering pizzas.
"My life has been ruined, and the children are trying but the grades they made before they have not been able to maintain," she said through the translator. She said that her children must watch other fathers come home every day. "There's never a day or night when we don't wait for him."
THE PUBLIC DEFENDER brought several witnesses that painted a picture of Alana's youth as a troubled time when he was rejected and neglected.
Alana's great aunt, Maxine Smalls, testified about Alana's early days — when he was known as Jamal Harrison. She said she spent time with him when he was a boy when his parents weren't getting along.
"He was a sweet, loving child," Smalls said. "He was very open and caring."
She testified that Alana loved his mother, who was troubled by depression and drug use. In 1996, she disappeared. After 10 months, Alana's mother turned up in the District of Columbia morgue.
"That had a devastating effect on him," she testified. "At the funeral, he tried to throw himself into the grave."
Alana's father testified about the boy's contentious relationship with his stepmother, about how he sent the child to boarding school and about how he visits his son in prison.
"He could make an adjustment into society," he testified. "He can be rehabilitated."
Dr. Mary Beth Williams, a licensed clinical social worker, testified that Alana suffers from "complex post-traumatic stress disorder" as a result of his troubled childhood, repeated abandonment and extreme stress. She said that growing up in a "wartime environment" created a "hypervigilance that altered his brain chemistry."
"He shows a willingness to want to help other people," she testified. "If treated, he could make a contribution to society."
On cross examination, Williams testified that Alana enjoyed writing screenplays.
Sengel replied: "Did you read the one about the woman getting raped and the guy getting his head cut off?"
CLOSING ARGUMENTS presented two perspectives of the case.
"The defendant accepted responsibility but also wants to maintain that he was not the shooter," said Sengel. "It's difficult to conceive of a greater manipulation of the system in terms of constitutional or appellate rights."
Sengel requested that Alana be sentenced to life in prison, adding that maintaining his innocence after making a plea agreement demonstrated a lack of sympathy. Sengel said that the trauma Alana created in the community was worthy of a life sentence.
"Imagine a time when Alana will be living among the children of the man he killed," said Sengel. "Surely, they deserve better."
Defense attorneys portrayed Alana as a man who was a victim of his past, someone who could benefit from therapy and rejoin society.
John Zwerling, a court-appointed attorney, asked the judge to work within the Virginia sentencing guidelines, which provided a range of 25 to 45 years. Zwerling also tried to establish doubt about Alana's guilt.
"There's reason to believe that he was not the shooter," he said. "There was no trial, so we have an incomplete record."
Public Defender Melinda Douglas asked the judge to consider Alana's lack of prior wrongdoing, saying that he had expressed regret for his actions.
"Your honor, I believe that people can change," she said. "And I believe that you do, too."
Alana offered his apology shortly before being sentenced. Tears rolled down his face, and his sobbing made part of his statement inaudible as he apologized, but reiterated his innocence.
"I am not a killer," he said. "For me to be implicated in this case is no one's fault but my own."