At the murder sentencing for a South Jersey mom's ex-boyfriend and killer, her uncle bitterly recalled trying to advise the young man about the responsibilites of becoming a father years ago.
"I remember pulling him aside and telling him, 'Don’t worry, you’re gonna be fine, you’ve got Britton," said Paul Umfer, uncle of victim Britton Loyden, of the conversation he had with Ismael Pierce. "She's gonna make you a better man, she's gonna take care of everything."
"I just want you to understand what you had, and what you did, and what you took away from everybody," Umfer said. "You had an opportunity of having a great life. Now, you’re gonna sit in jail. Your son is gonna hate you. And for what?"
Pierce was formally sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison on aggravated manslaughter charges for strangling his ex-girlfriend 23-year-old Britton Loyden to death in February 2012 inside her Vineland home.
The two had one son together, Madden Armani Pierce. With the time he has already served included, Pierce will serve about 17 years in prison.
"Twelve-hundred ninety-five days have passed since I last saw my beautiful girl,” said Britton's mother Tracy Frees in a victim impact statement. She is now raising her grandson. "Madden has lost his mother, the woman that loved him more than her own life. He has suffered so much in his short five years."
More than 25 family members and friends of Britton's were in court for the sentencing. Several delivered impact statements about how losing Britton affected their lives.
“Britton, there is no amount of time or sequence of words that will ever do you justice," said Britton’s sister Jillian Loyden.
Loyden, a retired goalie who was on the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team, has started an anti-domestic violence non-profit in her sister’s honor. She recalled Britton as a "remarkable, wonderful” person who was “destined to accomplish great things” and “deserved joy, love and laughter."
“I know my sister changed lives because she forever changed mine," she said. "Even today, my sister is still changing lives … all over the world, people’s lives are being saved by hearing about my sister Britton … but her story always ends in death."
Pierce apologized for his crimes before sentence was handed down by Judge Robert Malestein.
“I want to apologize to Britton’s family. I’m sorry for the infinite amount of pain I’ve caused you,” Pierce said. “I think about what I have done every day and I hate myself for it."
As part of his guilty plea, Pierce admitted that he put Britton in a choke-hold from behind and suffocated her to death inside the bedroom of her Vineland home on Feb. 9, 2012.
Pierce left Britton's body in her house, still filled with balloons and birthday gifts from her recent birthday party for more than a day, while using her car to drive around. Britton's mom contacted police after she didn’t hear from her daughter for 24 hours and found out she had missed work.
During the hearing, Cumberland County first assistant prosecutor Harold Shapiro recounted the sequence of events when police entered Britton's home on Feb. 10, 2012.
Pierce, who was inside with his son, told the officers that Britton had left and he didn't know where she was, saying, “We tore this place up, and she’s not here." When they asked to enter the bedroom, he agreed.
According to a police report that Shapiro read, Pierce led officers into the dark bedroom, then threw a blanket onto the floor over an object in front of them, from under which one detective could see a foot.
“See? She’s not here. I checked this room. No, there’s no one here,” Pierce said, according to the report, as the lights were switched on.
He then turned, pulled the blanket up, and shouted, “Oh my god, oh my god, what happened to her?”
Detectives wrote that Pierce “did not show any emotion or reaction” upon finding Britton's body and his words seemed “rehearsed,” Shapiro said.
Pierce was originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, but was allowed to enter a plea to aggravated manslaughter, which has less time. Some family members were disappointed that he won't face a harsher penalty.
“He took away one of the most important, wonderful, beautiful people,” said Britton's cousin Alexa Umfer in her statement. “She lived for 23 years, and he’s not even serving for how long she was here."