John Davis Cherry Jr. was sentenced to life in prison Friday for the March 2011 shooting death of Lexington taxi driver Amine Lemghaili.
Cherry, 29, of Lexington, did not speak during the sentencing hearing. A jury found him guilty of murder, first-degree wanton endangerment, unlawful imprisonment and various drug charges.
After the sentencing, Rachael Ratliff, Lemghaili's wife, said she will not oppose parole for Cherry when the time comes. The Lemghailis have a daughter who is now 4 years old.
"I have a job to raise a little girl with happiness," Ratliff said. "If I had a load of anger and hurt and rage, I can't raise this child with happiness. She's more important than him (Cherry)."
Lemghaili, 28, was found with a gunshot wound to the head inside his taxi in the Woodhill neighborhood. A native of Morocco, Lemghaili came to the United States in 2002 at age 19 to study at Rutgers University.
He moved to Lexington after a long-distance romance with Ratliff, whom he married in 2006. Lemghaili was an independent contractor for Yellow Cab.
Public defender Erica Roland said Cherry "does feel incredible remorse for what happened" and called Lemghaili's death "a tragic event."
"He is more to the community and his family than this event," Roland told Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine.
Ratliff's decision to not oppose parole "speaks to her spirit of mercy and forgiveness," Roland said.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Traci Caneer said Lemghaili's death was "much more than a tragic event."
To this day, Cherry "does not take responsibility for the life that he took," Caneer said. The jury's recommendation for a life sentence demonstrates that the panel also thought that "he did not take responsibility," Caneer said.
Goodwine agreed. She read a portion of a letter from an unidentified visitor to Cherry while he was in jail immediately after the shooting. Cherry told the visitor that he couldn't remember what happened on the night of the shooting. Cherry, who had been using alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs, told police that he had been too intoxicated to remember everything the night Lemghaili was killed.
"If I didn't do it, I pray to God I can prove it," Cherry told the visitor, according to the letter read by Goodwine.
Then, her voice rising, Goodwine recounted how Cherry made choices to take and sell drugs that led to the shooting.
"He had a loving mother. He had loving family members who supported him. ... He went to private school. He had every opportunity," Goodwine said.
Lemghaili "was nothing more than a hard-working man who came to this country to make a better life for himself, for his wife, Rachael, and for their daughter," Goodwine said.
To say "'I didn't know what I was doing' is not acceptable — not by the jury, not by the community and not by me," Goodwine said. "You made a decision and you made choices that were so far removed from the life you lived."
Because of the life sentence, Cherry's case will go to the Kentucky Supreme Court for an automatic appeal.
Roland said after the sentencing that Cherry "does take responsibility for what happened. We hope he will be able to explain that to another jury" should the Supreme Court overturn his conviction, she said.
Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.