Devenne Marquist Rodriguez shielded his face throughout his sentencing hearing Friday, but it could not muffle the sound of pain.
The loss of Adrian Augusta poured out in the tears of several family members, who told of the emptiness left behind from the 4 a.m., Aug. 26, 2011, murder at 37th Avenue and 44th Street in Sacramento.
"Two years and I cannot let him go," younger brother Jaroby Augusta wailed, in a contingent of 15 friends and relatives of the 20-year-old victim.
"My closest friend is gone, really gone, and he's never coming back."
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Geoffrey A. Goodman watched the video of a young boy sitting on Santa Claus' lap, getting a little bigger and wearing a San Francisco Giants cap, and smiling next to his mother on the day of his graduation from Luther Burbank High School.
Rodriguez, now 28, was convicted July 11 of first-degree murder with the special-circumstance allegation of shooting Augusta dead while robbing him of a small baggie of marijuana that the victim was going to sell him.
The sentence qualified Rodriguez for a life term in prison with no chance of parole. Before Goodman imposed it, defense attorney Frances Huey asked the judge to reconsider on grounds the sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.
"All indications are it was an intentional shooting, an intentional shooting in the back," the judge responded. He said the killing was "probably a setup."
Goodman said Rodriguez "may have been lying in wait," too, along with co-defendant Sherston Miles, who pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and was sentenced earlier this month to 16 years to life in prison.
"Certainly because the killing was so quick, you don't have the hideous aggravating circumstances," Goodman said. "But he took somebody's life, so life without parole is not cruel and unusual."
In an interview last year, Augusta's mother, Earlanda Augusta, said that from the time of his graduation, her son had tried to get a job at fast-food restaurants and several other businesses in the Fruitridge area. When nothing turned up, she said, he sold pot for his pocket money. She didn't like it, but she understood.
"He said to me, 'Mom, what am I going to do?' " she said.
On Friday, Earlanda Augusta stood up in court and remembered her son as a good, fun-loving, big-eating, churchgoing laugh track of a kid. She expressed anger at what she described as defense attempts to characterize her son as some kind of drug kingpin.
"He didn't drive a car," Earlanda Augusta said. "He didn't have big bling or carry wads of cash. None of that. He wore basketball shorts and tennis shoes."
According to testimony at trial, Rodriguez had been drinking and smoking marijuana the night of the murder with a 15-year-old girl. She knew Augusta, and Rodriguez got her to arrange the face-to-face pot deal that turned into a murder.
"I will never forget who you are or how you took my first-born child away from me," Earlanda Augusta told Rodriguez. "Unfortunately, the devil is allowed to seep in through weak individuals to perform unthinkable, heinous crimes with no consciousness, regard or remorse for human life.
"Hatred is a very powerful thing," she said. "When tragedies happen, you can only imagine how much hate I do have inside of me right now."
Last month's verdict came in a retrial after an a jury last September voted 11-1 in favor of acquittal.
The tally came after Rodriguez testified at trial that his accomplice, a mystery man he identified only by the street moniker "Serge," who shot Augusta.
Before this year's trial, the District Attorney's Office filed additional murder charges against "Serge," who turned out to be co-defendant Sherston Miles.
Serge was tried alongside Rodriguez, with Miles seated two chairs over at the defense table. In the retrial, Rodriguez chose not to testify.
Call The Bee's Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.