Joseph Eduardo Cordova can’t smell anymore.
At the age of 13, he can’t play sports like he used to because ofsevere migraines, dizzy spells, and stomach aches. In a letter that was read out loud in court Thursday, the boy said his family can’t look at him without crying. His presence brings to mind the accident that happened during a birthday party in Mattapan on June 6, 2015. The accident that left him critically injured and took the life of his 8-year-old cousin, Yadielys DeLeon Camacho.
“I cry on birthdays and holidays because Yadielys doesn’t get to enjoy any of these things,” Joseph wrote in scrawled handwriting.
On Thursday, James J. Horton pleaded guilty to driving into the two children and fleeing the scene. Yadielys died in the street from her injuries. Joseph’s leg was broken, and he suffered a concussion.
Horton was driving a rental car at nearly double the 30 mile-per-hour speed limit when he struck the children, who were riding a bike on West Selden Street at 11 that night, according to Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Robert Gordon is expected to impose a sentence Friday morning. Assistant district attorney Judith Lyons has recommended eight to 10 years in state prison, while Horton’s attorney, Alyssa Hackett, requested six years.
Hackett included personal history — Horton grew up in public housing, raised by a single mother who struggled with alcoholism. He’d previously served a three-year sentence for assault with a dangerous weapon, and Hackett said he struggled to make the transition back to the community.
Lyons noted Horton violated probation repeatedly and has repeated moving violations and license suspensions. Letters from friends vouching for Horton’s character included one from his oldest daughter, Bryana Horton.
She read hers in court.
“I am saddened for the family and I’m not saying what my dad did was right, but I’m asking for forgiveness,” Bryana Horton said, “and want to strongly express to everyone that this was an accident and my father, James Horton, and the rest of our family is truly sorry.”
Yet to the family of Yadielys, there are no excuses for leaving a little girl to die.
The aftershocks of that loss are still felt today. Joseph’s mom, Chantey Pagan, said her teenage son is afraid of walking alone. She can no longer work.
“If my son goes to school and maybe he reads too much or maybe has too much fun at school, I need to be flexible to pick up my son if he feels sick,” Pagan said. “I need to deal with it constantly for the rest of their lives for my son and my daughter. This accident will never go away.”
Speaking through a translator, the victim’s aunt Yanellys Rivera told the judge in Spanish that no one at home is the same. Her daughter, who was 9 at the time, witnessed the accident along with others in the family.
“Since that day, we all have to take medication, we all go to therapy,” Rivera said. “My daughter wakes up at night crying and screaming remembering that. Because for him to leave the scene, he told my daughter to be quiet. My daughter was left in shock.”
It wasn’t played in court, but a five-minute long photo montage was given to the judge with pictures of Yadielys smiling at the camera in a pink dress at Christmas and kissing her father.
“Despite her young age, my niece was full of dreams,” Rivera said in Spanish. “She was a very happy child. Every time she got home from school, she’d be so happy to show you her grades. She was our sunlight.
“We know there is no number of sentence that will ever be justice,” she said. “But under 10 years would never, ever be justice.”
Nearby, Horton — who was charged with manslaughter, leaving the scene of a collision causing death, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and operating with a suspended license — offered a small nod of understanding. He bit his lip, looked ahead, and then stood to read a letter of apology. He called himself a man with a troubled past beset by sleepless nights and asking for forgiveness. In the background were sniffles and stifled sobs.
“I am fully aware of how wrong I was and the grief that I caused this family. Though I cannot undo what happened, I most certainly have learned from it,” Horton said. “I want nothing more than to attempt to give some peace to your hearts and minds. I will forever be haunted by the reality of what I have done and for that I am truly sorry.”