NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey man convicted of killing one student and wounding four others at an off-campus party near Seton Hall University was sentenced Friday to life in prison plus 20 years.
Nicholas Welch, 29, of East Orange, sat silently, his hands in cuffs, as his sentence was read. Earlier, he apologized to the family of Jessica Moore, a 19-year-old sophomore honors student from Disputanta, Virginia, who was killed when a gunman opened fire into a house party in 2010. Four others were shot and injured.
Welch told Moore's family he prayed for their loss, but maintained his innocence.
"I just want to let you all know," he said, "your daughter's blood is not on my hands."
Prosecutors said Welch, who was convicted in March of murder and attempted murder, brawled with the hosts of the party after they wouldn't let him inside and then went to a friend's home nearby to get the gun he used in the shooting.
"This defendant opened fire on unarmed, defenseless college students. There is no place in society for this type of behavior," said assistant prosecutor Jamel Semper. "We are satisfied that this sentence will keep this defendant off the streets for the rest of his life."
Welch's attorney said his client, who wasn't a student but lived on the block where the party took place, had been wrongfully convicted in a case of mistaken identity. He had asked the minimum sentence of 30 years.
In emotional statements, members of the Moore family broke down in tears as they shared details of Jessica's life and lashed out at Welch.
"It takes a cold-hearted monster to walk into a room of innocent people and shoot them," said Cynthia Moore, Jessica's aunt. "He's asking for mercy. He didn't give Jessica or anyone else mercy that night." After leaving the courtroom, she applauded the sentence, calling it "well-deserved."
In what he described as an unusual move, Judge Robert Gardner added his own admonition.
"Actions have consequences, son," he told Welch.
But Welch's sister, Latonya, and the mother of his two children, Ebony Copeland, painted him as a family man who had changed his life after years of run-ins with the law.
"I feel sorry for Jessica, but not only did Jessica lose a life. My children lost a father," Copeland said.
Under the terms of Welch's sentence, he will be eligible for parole in about 89 years.