Veronica Alford had been friends with Edith Turnage for 20 years. After Turnage's daughter died in an accidental shooting at the hands of her friend's son, Alford sent flowers, balloons and a teddy bear. She asked about the funeral but never heard back.
Turnage could not fathom the charges that would be leveled against her friend. How could Alford have helped drag 13-year-old Monae Turnage's body down an alley and bury it in pile of trash? How could she have arranged to hide the gun that killed the girl?
The two mothers stood on opposite sides of a Baltimore courtroom Thursday, recounting the accident that tore apart their friendship and robbed their community of a promising youth. The testimony came as a Baltimore judge sentenced Alford to 18 months in prison for her role in covering up the girl's death.
"I don't understand why 911 was never called. … It seemed like the whole thing was a plot," said Edith Turnage. "I don't understand how people do these things and hurt other people."
Alford, 49, pleaded guilty in April to being an accessory after the fact in Monae's death. Alford's son accidentally shot the girl in March 2012 with a rifle he had found at home, and another boy helped move her body. Prosecutors said Monae was still breathing as they hid her body.
Alford read a letter in court that began "Dear Edith" and said she was hurting, too. She acknowledged that she had made some "unwise decisions," but also disputed the state's account in the case.
Even though she pleaded guilty, she said she had been at work when Monae was killed and only learned about her death from homicide detectives later. Her attorney would not elaborate on the discrepancy.
"I have been enduring so much pain over this," Alford said, before breaking down at the defense table. "I hope that some day you can forgive us."
Before the hearing, Alford appeared relaxed as she sat on a bench outside the courtroom. She leafed through a legal document with her attorney, who was hoping to spare his client prison time.
But the wrenching hearing ended late Thursday as a sheriff's deputy placed handcuffs around Alford's wrists and led her from the courtroom. One woman sitting with Alford's family became emotional and tried to leave — only to be forced by another deputy to remain.
Alford's son, who was 13 at the time of the shooting, admitted in juvenile court his role in the shooting. He has been committed indefinitely to a treatment facility. The other boy, who was 12, admitted his role in the coverup and was sent to live with a relative in Harford County and to be monitored by the Department of Juvenile Services.
The Baltimore Sun does not name juvenile defendants.
Martinez Armstrong, the alleged owner of the gun used in the shooting, has been charged with reckless endangerment and gun offenses. His trial is scheduled for July. The gun itself was found in the car of Baltimore police Officer John A. Ward, who was dating one of Alford's daughters. He was not charged in the case.
Defense attorney Isaac Klein said the state's theory about the case — that Alford both helped move the body and ordered the gun to be hidden — had only brought more heartache to Turnage's family.
"Although there might have been some obstruction, it did not rise to the level the family believes it has," he said after the hearing.
But Assistant State's Attorney Andrew Kowalczyk told the judge that Alford had acted in the "most heartless, egregious way."
"This was not an act of omission," he said. "This was an overt act of obstruction by the matriarch of the house."
Circuit Judge Alfred Nance paused as he handed down the sentence, noting that the court's role in such a difficult case was limited.
"We will not be the place for revenge," he said. "We will not be the place for answers in a grieving time."
Nance sentenced Alford to five years in prison with all but 18 months suspended and the three years' probation. The judge said that normally he orders people to stay away from their victims, but in this case he did not see how that was possible because of how widely Monae's death had been felt.
"The victim is each and every person in East Baltimore," he said.