Chapel Hill police Capt. Bobby Smith learned that his son had been shot two Junes ago from a phone call.
"Oh, God," Deborah Smith remembered her husband saying. Emergency responders had started giving her only child CPR.
Then Capt. Smith started crying. "He's gone."
With her husband and a crowd of family and friends behind her, Deborah Smith recounted the story Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court after her son's killer, Jimmy Ray Goldston Jr., 27, of Pittsboro pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Superior Court Judge Dennis J. Winner sentenced Goldston to a minimum of 12 1/2 years in prison.
"This is another example of, in my mind, of cases that probably would not have happened had it not been for the easy availability of handguns," Winner said.
Demarcus Smith was 24 when he died. He had two children, now 6 and 2. Although he had previously had some trouble with the law, he had enrolled in barber school, and his parents believed he was trying to turn his life around.
Just months before Smith would graduate, his father planned to give him a space that could be his barber shop behind the family's house, Capt. Smith said Wednesday.
The young man's death was difficult for many people in Orange County law enforcement who knew Capt. Smith and his son for years. Even before court Wednesday, law enforcement officers and court personnel greeted the Smiths with hugs.
Smith had just finished cutting someone's hair at the Kingswood apartments in Chapel Hill on June 17, 2004, said Orange-Chatham District Attorney Jim Woodall.
About that time, a friend entered the apartment and told Smith to go outside to speak with a person later identified as Goldston. Goldston, who was carrying a handgun, thought Smith and two others had recently broken into his sister's apartment in the same complex.
In the parking lot, Smith and Goldston had an argument, Woodall said, and the men may have gotten into a struggle. Then Goldston shot Smith in the chest. The bullet tore through Smith's lung and hit part of his heart.
Smith ran back to the apartment. That is where police found him.
Goldston later turned himself in. In an informal statement, he told police that he killed Smith in self-defense, Woodall said.
In court, Goldston's attorney, Barry Winston, said his client regretted shooting Smith. Goldston's wife testified that her husband often couldn't sleep because of the incident.
Supportive letters submitted to the court from those who knew Goldston described him as a reasoned and kind man who was a "shining star," a Northwood High School graduate who passed up a college wrestling scholarship.
Goldston worked as a truck driver while out on bail. He had one daughter with his wife, and was also helping raise her two older children.
Wearing a white shirt and black pants, Goldston teared up as Deborah Smith read a letter describing how painful it had been to lose her son.
Winston said nothing justified his client taking the law into his own hands, but said Goldston didn't intend to kill anyone the night he went to Kingswood apartments.
Staff writer Jessica Rocha can be reached at 932-2008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.