JONESBORO Kevin Kosturi destroyed two families when he pulled the trigger of a gun and shot and killed his girlfriend, Angel Hope Freeman, in a wooded area near Ellenwood on Feb. 21, 2011.
The Freeman family lost a daughter, who by all their accounts was the living embodiment of the ethereal spirit she was named after.
Meanwhile, the Kosturi family lost a son who was sentenced to life with parole plus 20 years in prison. He will be nearly 50 before he is eligible for that parole.
“This is the most tragic case I’ve ever been involved in,” said Kosturi’s attorney, Scott Dawkins. “There is nobody who is going to be able to come out of this a winner ... There are two teenagers who are — for all intents and purposes — lost forever to their families.”
Two families had to re-live Freeman’s death and wore their hearts on their sleeves when Superior Court Judge Geronda Carter issued Kosturi’s prison sentence Monday. A jury convicted Kosturi, who will turn 18 this month, of Freeman’s murder on March 1.
He must serve at least 30 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
Robert Bethune, who pleaded guilty to giving Kosturi the gun used to kill Freeman, was also sentenced with the teenager. Carter gave Bethune 10 years, with three years to serve in prison and the remaining time to be spent on probation speaking to groups about the dangers of giving guns to young people. He also must pay a $2,000 fine and surrender his guns to authorities.
Both families said Freeman’s death left a hole in their hearts. They described her as a kind, gentle person who tried to see the good in others and help them as much as she could.
Freeman was 16, robbed of the special moments which could have filled the rest of her life.
“She was a wonderful person — outgoing and happy,” her half-sister Leann Hick said. “She had a bright future ahead of her.”
Her family can only imagine what that life would have been like. Relatives who spoke at the hearing wept as they told Carter they will never see Freeman graduate from high school, experience her wedding day or start a family of her own.
Her father, James Freeman, began crying as he told Carter during the sentencing hearing that he now has to go to a cemetery to see his daughter.
Family members said James Freeman hasn’t been able to bring himself to pack up his daughter’s belongings and has left her room exactly as it was the day she died.
“I can’t even make it through my job without breaking down and crying every day because I’ll come across something that reminds me of her, whether it’s someone with blond hair, or if I drive past a school or if I’m down near Georgia Tech because she was looking forward to going to college,” he said.
“I’ll never get my father-daughter dance because she was taken from me.”
Kosturi’s mother, Deanna, said her family adored Angel Freeman and viewed her as a member of their family. She lamented through tears that she felt like she had lost two children because of the murder.
“The loss of this beautiful girl has left a void in my heart,” Deanna Kosturi said. “I don’t want to lose another person because of this incident.”
She wept as she recalled being pregnant with her son and trying to raise him to be a good person.
Deanna Kosturi added she has a younger son with autism who still struggles to understand the fact that Kevin is going to spend decades in prison and may never see him again except through a glass wall during visiting hours.
Kevin’s young siblings sat in the audience with their parents and watched as their older brother, wearing a red prison jumpsuits with his hands and legs in chains, was sentenced to spend decades in jail.
“His brother keeps asking, ‘When is Kevin coming home?’” Deanna Kosturi said.
At times, Kevin Kosturi dropped his head as his mother begged Carter for leniency.
But, where Kosturi’s mother is feeling the grief of losing her son, Freeman’s relatives expressed contempt for him as they asked Carter to sentence him to life without parole.
Randy Seres, who identified himself as an “extended family member,” compared Kosturi and Bethune to the monsters children fear live under their beds.
“When you’re a parent, your children come to you and tell you they’re scared of the monsters in their bedroom, but there aren’t any monsters — isn’t that right, Kevin? Isn’t that right, Robert?” Seres said. “Well, I’m looking at two monsters right now. You’re just two monsters in red jumpsuits because you took a young child from her parents.”
During the trial, classmates testified that they had seen Kosturi and Freeman arguing in school, and heard him say he was going to kill her. She was planning on leaving him and prosecutor Travis Thurston said she wanted to let him down gently because “she cared about his feelings.”
Seres didn’t express as much sympathy as he addressed Kosturi during the hearing. He was one of Freeman’s relatives who called for her murderer to be sentenced to life without parole.
“Kevin, monster, I have hope for you,” Seres said. “I hope every night you’re in prison, you get a visit from someone who [physically and mentally] abuses you for the rest of your miserable life.”
With his sentencing, the prosecution part of the story of Angel Freeman and Kevin Kosturi came to an end this week. Carter urged the victim’s family to find a way to make peace with the fact that they were never going to see her again.
“I know you didn’t get the sentence you wanted, but from what I have heard of Angel’s spirit, I am convinced she would not want you to dwell on how she died, but rather how she lived,” Carter said.