JONESBORO — Clayton County Superior Court Judge Matthew Simmons’ exasperation with the two men in front of him and what they did to a father of three last year was evident on his face Thursday.
Simmons blasted Denirio “D-Red” Cunningham, 20, and Joseph Irvine Harris, 23, for the senseless killing of David “Ruck” Rucker and for their obvious lack of remorse. The pair were convicted last month and sentenced Thursday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“There is a difference in ‘I’m sorry I committed a crime’ and ‘I’m sorry I got caught,” said Simmons. “They were not remorseful over the victim, they were only remorseful because they got caught.”
Simmons went to say he doubted the two are capable of being rehabilitated and are, in fact, a hazard to the community.
“There may be a possibility of rehabilitation by the two but it isn’t outweighed by the danger to society if they are allowed out,” he said.
It was a point made minutes before by prosecutor Jason Green.
“We would ask for life without parole not only to punish them but to keep us safe,” said Green.”Because it doesn’t matter who you are, as far as the defendants are concerned, friend or foe, you are in danger.”
Green pointed to a home invasion in which the two men participated two months before Rucker’s June 2012 death, where the victims were strangers. Rucker, 25, and Harris were high school friends and Rucker was acquainted with Cunningham.
Testimony and evidence showed the two men got another friend to drive them to the home Rucker shared with his girlfriend, Ashley Gay, and their three children, including a special needs daughter. The two broke open a window and climbed into the apartment.
Confronted by the armed Cunningham, Rucker pleaded with the two to leave his family alone, telling them his kids were in the house. Rucker was able to get Gay and the kids into a bedroom and close the door against the intruders but the two kicked in the door and shot Rucker once in the chest before fleeing.
There was no evidence they took any items with them, hence the senseless aspect of the crime.
“Listening to the victim’s mother speak, it struck me how senseless all this was,” said Simmons. “This didn’t have to happen. What was in that apartment that was so valuable? A television? Electronics? You crawl through a window, kick in doors and kill someone over all that? It’s just senseless.”
Rucker’s mother, Angela Rucker, gave an impact statement asking the convicted killers the unanswerable “Why?”
“I heard first it was about the TV,” she said. “Then clothes, but who knows? For clothes that you couldn’t even wear. David was 300-plus pounds.”
Jail records show Harris weighs 160, and Cunningham, 145.
Cunningham’s mother, Jane, also spoke. She cried on the stand and she told Rucker’s family how sorry she was for their loss.
“I pray the Lord gives you peace in your heart,” she said. “That He gives you strength and calm. This kind of forgiveness is something that’s hard, it’ll take plenty of time for you to forgive. It’s really tragic, these two made a horrible mistake.”
After leaving the stand, she stopped and hugged Rucker’s father.
No other relatives spoke.
However, Harris’ former basketball coach at Creekside High School offered character testimony. Floyd McRae said Harris was a bright student with no sign of problems.
“He was no different than the other students,” said McRae.
Harris’ attorney, Jonathan Melnick, tried to downplay Harris’ culpability in Rucker’s death since Cunningham was the trigger man and Harris was unarmed. However, Simmons wouldn’t give Harris a pass.
“They had committed a similar crime together two months earlier,” he said. “Joseph Harris knew what Denirio Cunningham was capable of. What did he think he was going to do with that gun? He saw what Cunningham was able to make that woman do by sticking a gun in her face. He knew he was bringing a gun into David Rucker’s apartment. He knew it was a possibility that someone could be shot. That’s what happens when you breaking into someone’s home with a gun.”
Compounding the senselessness, said Simmons, is the fact that Rucker took his family to hide in a bedroom.
“David Rucker had retreated with his wife and kids,” he said. “They had free run of the house and could have taken whatever they wanted. They kept pushing this and pushing this until they got to the point of no return.”
After the friend who drove them to Rucker’s home gave them up to police, Cunningham tried to have him killed through a jail phone call to a girlfriend, said prosecutors. They were both charged but her charges were dropped after she testified against Cunningham and Harris last month.
Cunningham’s attorney, Careton Matthews, also tried to distance his client from the crime.
“Just as they were exiting their teens, these events occurred,” he said, as if the shooting was unrelated to their actions.
Neither defendant spoke or showed signs of emotion during the hearing. They have the right to appeal the sentence.