A soft-spoken Paulette Bowman Carter took the witness stand Wednesday morning and recalled Oct. 5.
It was a day when she got a call from her mother, Viola Jones. It was Jones’ birthday and Carter’s son Charles Bowman had visited her. The grandmother was so happy to see Bowman that she didn’t even tell Carter the gift he had brought her.
Then the day took a turn for the worse, and Bowman was gunned down on Schenectady Street by Terell Bethea.
“Very often people say there are no words to express their hurt,” Carter told the court at Bethea’s sentencing Wednesday morning. “I don’t think that’s the problem. Your honor, I think the problem is they can’t say it loud enough.”
Saying it loud enough, she said, would involve breaking every window in the place.
“The whole ground would have to tremble for you to even say a little bit how you really feel,” Carter said.
She offered her statement to the court during the sentencing of Bethea, and when his turn to speak came, he could hardly express his remorse for what he had done.
Bethea, 28, pleaded guilty in April to one count of second-degree murder. In return for his guilty plea, he received a sentence of 17 years to life in state prison Wednesday.
On Oct. 5, Bethea shot and killed Bowman, hitting him twice as he fled. The shooting, according to the prosecutor and defense attorney, had roots in a burglary that morning on Paige Street.
According to defense attorney Sven Paul, those roots went back even further — to a September 2010 shooting on State Street in downtown Schenectady.
But Bowman wasn’t involved in either the burglary or the earlier shooting.
All he did was encounter Bethea later on the day of the burglary.
The Paige Street burglary was at the home of Bethea’s aunt, prosecutor John Healy said. Police were investigating, but Bethea decided to take matters into his own hands.
Hearing reports that the burglar ran out the back, toward Schenectady Street, Bethea went there, looking for witnesses.
There, Bowman and another person were washing a car. Bowman hadn’t seen anything but pointed Bethea to another person to ask, Healy said.
Bethea continued asking people, becoming more irate. He then returned to Bowman, believing Bowman wasn’t being fully cooperative. An argument ensued.
Bowman soon believed Bethea was calling him a liar. To get Bethea away, Bowman pulled a carpet knife.
Two years earlier, Bethea was shot on State Street, Paul said, outside 440 State St. A man pulled up in a vehicle, got out and shot Bethea in the leg.
No one was ever charged in that shooting. Paul believed Bethea had gotten in between an argument between a man and a woman, resulting in the shooting. But Bethea, suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result, chose to get a gun and protect himself going forward, Paul said.
On Schenectady Street in October 2012, Bethea still had that gun.
As the crowd that had formed for the argument scattered, Bowman, too, ran.
As Bowman ran, Bethea opened fire. Bowman was hit twice in the back.
Witness accounts and street surveillance cameras helped set the sequence of events. Bethea helped the investigation, too, when he turned himself in shortly afterward, showing police where he stashed the gun.
To the court, Paul described a client whom he said is genuinely remorseful. He recounted Bethea’s comments in a pre-sentencing report that for the first six days he was in custody all he could do was cry. Bethea told the probation officer who prepared the report that he wished he didn’t have the gun.
When it came his time to speak, an emotional Bethea, in handcuffs and in his orange jail clothing, turned to Bowman’s family in the gallery and apologized.
“All I know is he didn’t deserve to die and I apologize,” Bethea said. “I apologize to everyone. I’m so sorry.”
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago told Bethea she had thought about the case and read the pre-sentencing report over and over. She could only walk away finding that the whole case is “truly a tragedy.”
“I know you’re remorseful,” she said. “But the point is that Mr. Bowman is dead.
“There’s really nothing that the court can say to even try to make sense of what transpired on this day.”
“This whole situation,” Drago continued a short time later, “is akin to so many people in this community that are subscribing to this culture that you have to have a gun on you to protect yourself.
“But for you having that gun,” she told Bethea, “this would never have happened.”
In the gallery, Carter moved her head in agreement.
Drago took the unusual step of standing as she started her comments, addressing Bowman’s family directly from the bench.
Drago told them she hopes that at some point they can put their sorrow and pain someplace in their heart. “On behalf of the court, I am truly sorry,” the judge said.
The pain evident in the courtroom, she said, was almost deafening.
Bowman, 43, was a father of six children, a man Carter recalled had an infectious smile. The number of friends and family who came out to the sentencing displaced others waiting for their cases to be called.
Among those attending was Bowman’s oldest daughter, Chamia Bowman. Outside the courtroom, she said she believes Bethea is sincere.
“I pray for him, along with the rest of my family,” Chamia Bowman said.
She was also satisfied with the agreed-upon sentence, 17 years to life.
“No matter what the decision was, it’s not going to bring my father back,” the daughter said. “But he does have a while to sit in there and think about what he did.”
In court, Carter approached the witness stand with victim advocate Stephanie Stuart holding her hand.
Carter recalled having to tell her mother about Bowman’s death, the same day she had been so happy to get a visit from him.
That, Carter said, was one of the hardest things she’s had to do in her life.
“Our lives,” Carter said, “will never be the same.”
Her statement to the court finished, Carter returned to the gallery, holding Stuart’s hand again as she went.
Carter went right to Davis, helping her dab the new tears from her eyes.