TORONTO - A Toronto man who armed himself with a large handgun before going shopping for shoes for his child pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in the Boxing Day 2005 shooting death of Jane Creba.
Jeremiah Valentine, 27, was given a life sentence with no chance of parole for 12 years for a crime that became a flashpoint for the city's anger over what had been a year rife with gun murders. The shootout took place on what is traditionally Toronto's busiest strip for Boxing Day bargain hunters - Yonge Street.
The Crown said forensics had determined it was "very likely" he fired the bullet that killed the Grade 10 student, but admitted those tests were not definitive and that the bullet could have come from two other weapons.
Court was told the bloody bullet was found in the hospital under the stretcher containing Creba, 15, who had been shopping with her mother and sister in the city's downtown when she was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival gangs.
Valentine would have had to wait much longer than 12 years for parole eligibility if he hadn't pleaded guilty, said Superior Court Justice John McMahon.
"I find this an exceptional exhibition of remorse to plead guilty," McMahon told the court. "It merits a significant reduction in parole eligibility."
Valentine was surrounded by a gang inside a Foot Locker store when several men lifted their jackets to show they were carrying guns and one demanded his gold chain, defence lawyer Edward Sapiano told the court.
"My client is acknowledging his criminal actions, but the facts clearly establish it started with him being the victim of a robbery," said Sapiano.
Valentine walked away, but later went outside to confront the men after they were staring at him through the store window, McMahon told the court as he read from the agreed statement of facts.
"Are these your boys?" the judge quoted Valentine as saying to the rival crowd of young men, "because these are my boys, and I have a .357."
Valentine did not intend to kill Creba, said the judge, but "he fired his gun with a specific intent to kill, and he fired until his fully loaded gun was empty."
Six other people were injured in the shooting, but apparently none of the participants, all of whom fled the scene immediately after the gun battle, which lasted less than 60 seconds.
Gun violence claimed 52 lives in Toronto in 2005, prompting calls for Ottawa to ban handguns. Just days after Creba's death Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced a $51-million package that included expedited police recruit training, construction of a $26-million gangs-and-guns police operations centre, and $5 million for Toronto police.
On Tuesday, lead investigator Det.-Sgt. Savas Kyriacou said Toronto police were pleased that Valentine accepted responsibility and acknowledged his "part and actions in this unfortunate event."
Outside the court, Sapiano said Valentine told him he "wished he could turn back the hands of time... but we know that can't be so."
"Mr. Valentine sincerely expressed his remorse and he's given to the Creba family and the people of Toronto the only thing left he has to give, and that is a guilty plea with a life sentence," Sapiano said.
"There's nothing more that he can do to undo what he's done."
Creba's family declined to make a victim impact statement in Valentine's case.
Two men, who cannot be named, are slated to stand trial on second-degree murder charges in the new year.
In November, four men were acquitted in the case after Crown said there was no reasonable prospect for a conviction against the four, who were facing manslaughter charges.
Last December, a jury found Jorrell Simpson-Rowe guilty of second-degree murder in Creba's death.
Simpson-Rowe, who was 17 at the time of the killing, was sentenced as an adult rather than as a youth. The decision meant he received an automatic life sentence, with no chance of parole for seven years.