A documented gang member was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thrusday for killing two women caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day in 2003.
James Carter, 37, smiled as the judge handed down the sentence in a downtown San Diego Superior Court. He was later seen mouthing the words to relatives, "I'll be out in three years."
Carter pulled the trigger on an AK-47 that sent more than 30 bullets into the white sedan that belonged to Sharon Burton, killing her and her friend, Carol Waites, said Deputy District Attorney Robert Hickey.
"Pictures of Miss Burton's car remind us more of scenes out of Mogadishu or Baghdad than San Diego," Hickey said. "This crime turned a neighborhood store into a war zone."
Waites and Burton were both sitting in the front seats of the car at Dr. J's liquor in Lincoln Park. They were going to buy a fire log following a New Years Eve church service.
A 7-year-old boy sitting in the back seat was also shot, but he survived. He was credited with saving his 2-year-old neice by throwing his body over her and ducking for cover.
Investigators said a bullet pierced the top of her car seat.
The case went unsolved for 6 years, but the D.A.'s office was finally able to charge Carter thanks to help from an unlikely place.
"They cross the line when they end up killing innocent ladies, and because of that, we were able to get people from within his gang to come forward and tell us what they knew about the crime," Hickey said. "Without them, we never could've solved the case."
Carter's aunt testified that her nephew is a good man who is being framed by gang members and the court.
"The truth shall come out, and they know actually he is not the shooter," Michelle Carter said. "He is not the killer. He is not the one who committed the murders."
Most of the women's family members left San Diego following the crime because it was so difficult, said Antrone Waites, the son of Carol Waites who spoke in court and again with reporters after the hearing.
"I've been waiting eight years for this," Waites said. "I haven't been sleeping in the past eight years. I still don't know how to explain to my son what happened and hopefully by today, I can."
The District Attorney's Office believes there were three or four shooters and three or four people in a seperate vehicle, and they vowed to continue working the case until they're done finding everyone who should be held accountable.