Newburgh Teen Apologizes at Sentencing for Halloween Murders

A Newburgh teen who killed two women and hurt others during a Halloween party last year has been sentenced in Orange County Court. J'nelle Agee has the details.

GOSHEN, N.Y. -- Nija Johnson, 17, arrived in court to hear his fate for his actions in a fatal shooting in Newburgh last October. Johnson pleaded guilty to two counts of murder for killing 18-year-old Omani Free and 20-year-old Tabitha Cruz on Halloween last year, as well as five counts of attempted murder.

He was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

"It truly is never going to be justice no matter what sentence is handed down in this case, because true justice would bring back the victims," said Orange County Court Judge Craig Stephen Brown.

Johnson admitted he intended to kill someone he had been in a fight with. But the Orange County chief assistant district attorney said Johnson fired the gun at least 10 times and only stopped shooting when he was forcibly disarmed.

"There was no indication that the defendant was acting in any matter in self-defense," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Christopher Borek.

Family members filled the courtroom wearing T-shirts bearing the girls' faces. Crying could be heard throughout the courtroom as family members of victims read impact statements.

"You made a conscious decision to pull out your gun and shoot for a total disregard and disrespect for anyone else’s life," said Donnell Simpkins' mother, Sharon Simpkins.

"The damaged he has cause is beyond reach for recovery, incapable of healing, a memory that will never go away," said Cruz's mother, Jeannette Drake.

Johnson showed no emotion as the impact statements were read, but when given the chance, he did offer his apologies to the court and victims’ families.

"I'd like to say to the families of the females that were murdered that night and the people that got hurt in my crossfire, that I apologize," Johnson said.

Family members said the apology was heartless.

"He ain't mean nothing he said," said Omar Free, Omani's father. "If he really meant it, he wouldn't have did it. All I can say is what happens to him in prison, I don't feel sorry for him."

"It was empty, because it wasn't heartfelt. It didn't mean anything," Simpkins said.

Family members said now that the sentencing is over, they finally have some closure.

"He deserves to be in prison for the rest of his life. But I do forgive him," said Omani Free's mother Rhonda.

"It's too late, but I accept it. you actually forgive him? Not yet, I'm going to try to but not yet," Drake said.

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