A maximum 38½-year prison sentence was handed down Tuesday for the man convicted of murdering Deshaun Hill Jr., the rising football star and honor roll student at North High in Minneapolis who was randomly gunned down last February while walking home from school.
In courtroom outbursts and unscripted victim impact statements, the rage and grief felt by Hill's loved ones was on full display for the sentencing of 30-year-old Cody Fohrenkam. Some had to stand outside because all gallery seats were taken. A half-dozen Hennepin County sheriff's deputies tried controlling the crowd, but the pain was still palpable more than a year after the Feb. 9, 2022, shooting.
At one point, Hill's parents were briefly escorted out by deputies after hurling profanities and insults at Fohrenkam, but they returned as family and friends also expressed their anger over the slaying.
"There's a saying called 'It's a devil walking around on Earth.' And Cody is that person," Hill's mother, Tuesday Sheppard, said. "He's the devil. He's not from our community and he was looking to kill anybody's kid."
Hennepin County District Judge Julie Allyn told Fohrenkam that Hill was "very loved and admired, not just by his family, but also his community and even people who did not know him." She said he took away the promise from Hill's family of seeing him graduate and play football. "But you also took that promise away from the community."
"Your victim, Deshaun Hill, was only 15 years old. All he did was walk by you. And as he's walking away in broad daylight on a public street you turned and shot at him not once but three times in the back of his head. And for why? For what reason?" Allyn said. "It is so senseless that now not only must his family deal with the loss of their son, they have to be tortured by that question of why."
In a chance encounter around noon, Fohrenkam and Hill brushed shoulders as Hill was walking to the bus stop. Fohrenkam had been scouring the neighborhood all morning searching for a man who stole his cellphone at knifepoint at a corner store. Immediately after they brushed shoulders, Fohrenkam pulled a gun from his backpack and shot Hill, who was walking in the opposite direction and wearing a foot cast from a football injury.
Fohrenkam was convicted in late January of two counts of second-degree murder. The jury took less than an hour to find him guilty, capping a four-day trial.
He did not address the court Tuesday. His attorney Lisa Skrzeczkoski said "he is still fighting for his innocence but he does give his condolences to Mr. Hill's family."
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Allard said Hill's future was stripped from him because "he happened to run into the wrong person." He noted Fohrenkam's violent criminal history that includes arson, robbery and gun possession.
"There is absolutely no reason he could provide or will provide for why he did this," Allard said. "He has shown no remorse. He has taken no responsibility for his actions whatsoever."
He told the judge he's never seen a case that calls for the maximum sentence more than this one.
Hill's father, Deshaun Hill Sr., told the judge that, "My son was everything to me." He was a good baby, his father said, who grew up to be an even better kid, excelling in school and sports. He said his daughters, age 10 and 11, are devastated without their big brother.
"Every weekend we would have a game to go to. And ever since this dude killed my son, everything stopped. ... My son didn't deserve to die. I'm missing out on him going to prom, missing out on him graduating high school — all because of what?"
His anger rising, Hill Sr. called Fohrenkam "a bum off the street." In trial, it was revealed that Fohrenkam told investigators he was homeless.
"You was always a nobody, and that's all you will ever be is a child killer!"
The family's attorney, William Walker, intervened when Allyn had to bring the courtroom to order. Walker said Hill Jr. was their only son and "their No. 1 hope."
Despite being in his sophomore year, Hill had dozens of college offers, and Hill Sr. said they're still getting recruitment letters to this day.
"Show no mercy on this defendant," Walker said.
Hill's former football coach Chris Johnson said that kids Hill's age and younger idolized the athlete they called "D-Hill."
"Not Kobe Bryant, not Tom Brady. 'I wanna be like D-Hill,'" he said.
"That is," he said with a long pause, "amazing."
Hill's cousin Zaheim Barbar, 19, let out a long sigh when he stepped up to the podium.
"His spirit lifted me up. His name lifted me up. It lifted everybody up."
Hill's determination to make it out of north Minneapolis and provide a better life for his family was highlighted in "Boys in Blue," a recent Showtime documentary giving an intimate look at his football team and coaching staff comprised of police officers in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. Filming of the show began before Hill's murder, and the four-part series unknowingly foreshadowed his premature death.
Sheppard said they will keep her son's memory alive with a memorial foundation, annual basketball tournaments and celebrating his upcoming birthday on March 13. They're also planning to lobby state lawmakers for harsher sentences for adults who kill minors.
As the hearing drew to a close and Allyn pronounced the sentence, the courtroom gallery erupted. Some shouted at Fohrenkam as he was escorted out by deputies.
And one woman yelled the last words that echoed in the courtroom: "Long live D-Hill!"