Both Antonio Niño and Jamel Coleman had rough starts to their lives. And those separate lives ended, one literally and one figuratively, in a violent moment between the two of them last April.
Niño, 44, came to the United States from Mexico as a young teenager, building a life for himself and his family. He owned his own business, the Smokehouse Tobacco Outlet, 2217 Lafayette St. He sent money back to family and friends in Mexico, making sure everyone was doing all right.
Coleman, 23, was a ward of the state from an early age, his life so battered by physical and emotional abuse that he was on suicide watch at the age of 10, according to prosecutors at his sentencing hearing Friday.
In spite of the presence of a wife and children in his own life, Coleman smoked marijuana and was high on Spice when he waited outside the Smokehouse Tobacco Outlet on April 7.
When Niño came to unlock the store, he likely recognized Coleman, who had visited the store, according to testimony.
But Coleman wasn’t there to buy anything. Nor was he there for some free food or snacks, which Niño often handed out to customers short on cash or luck. Armed with a handgun, Coleman was there to rob the businessman.
The two got into a fight inside the store, and Coleman took Niño’s own gun, a 9 mm, wrestled him to the floor, bound his hands with duct tape and shot him in the head. Niño died later at a hospital.
In January, Coleman pleaded guilty to charges of murder and robbery. On Friday, Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck sentenced him to a total of 60 years in prison.
During the sentencing hearing Friday morning, a completely sober and evidently remorseful Coleman wanted to make sure the court understood that he took full responsibility for his actions that morning.
As his wife spoke on his behalf, Coleman leaned forward in his chair, his hand on his face and his eyes reddening.
When Niño’s brother Sergio Niño spoke, Coleman sat and listened.
"The way everything went, it breaks my heart," Sergio Niño said. "Now that he’s gone, there’s just pain in our hearts."
Niño spoke of how his brother looked out for family, friends and the community, how he loved his children and how hard he worked for all of them.
"Everybody misses him," he said. "To come to something like this, it’s not fair. He was always trying to be something in this life."
Calling the death of the store owner an execution, Surbeck sentenced Coleman to 60 years on the murder charge and an additional 10 years on the robbery. He ordered the sentences to be served at the same time. Coleman must also pay more than $27,000 in restitution to the Niño family and to the state’s crime victims fund.
"This is a tragedy for both of these families, from which neither will recover quickly," Surbeck said.