Richmond resident Nickie Allen Donald, 22, was given the sentence in a Martinez courtroom today for fatally shooting 20-year-old Asama Naiem Ayyad and wounding Ayyad's 15-year-old cousin.
Prosecutors alleged that Donald is in a gang and killed Ayyad after mistaking him for a rival gang member.
Ayyad, who was Muslim, was driving his Lexus coupe after attending an event at a Richmond mosque the night of June 25, 2010, when a van pulled up and Donald shot him and his cousin, causing the car to smash into an electrical pole, prosecutors said.
Ayyad died from gunshot wounds and injuries suffered in the crash, and his younger cousin, who was shot in the leg, survived.
A jury in February convicted Donald of first-degree murder and attempted murder in connection with the shooting.
In court Thursday morning, Donald sat beside his attorney, Brooks Osborne, who read a prepared statement from the defendant apologizing to the victim's family. Donald, wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit, smirked and smiled at times during the hearing.
The court also heard from several of Ayyad's relatives, who described him as a kind and caring son, brother and friend whose death has taken a heavy toll on the family, and even on the family's restaurant, Zaki Kabob House in Albany, which closed temporarily after the killing.
Ramzy Ayyad, the victim's older brother, told the court that his mother must now have surgery to fix a burst blood vessel in her eye after she "literally cried her eyes out."
Prosecutor Satish Jallepalli read aloud a letter written by Ayyad's mother, Fayza Ayyad, after she tried to read it herself but became overcome by emotion, choking back tears.
"Nickie Donald cut my son's life too short -- I will never see him again, kiss him or hug him," Jallepali read.
The victim's 10-year-old brother Amieer addressed the defendant after proudly displaying a piece of his late brother's damaged car as well as toy cars representing the vehicles his brother had loved.
"This is your fault, you shouldn't have killed my brother for no reason," he said, at times stumbling over his words.
"I hope you get what you deserve. Think about it and learn from your mistakes," he said.
According to Jallepalli, Donald belongs to the North Richmond gang Project Trojans, and shot Ayyad and his cousin after spotting the Lexus and mistaking it for a car belonging to rival gang members.
The defendant testified during the trial that he is not a gang member, and a jury struck down an enhancement alleging that the shooting was carried out for the benefit of a gang.
However, today Judge Theresa Canepa said there is ample evidence that Donald was an active Project Trojans member involved in an ongoing war with the Central Richmond gang Deep-C.
"It is a consequence of that war that we had two victims in this case, one of whom is dead," she said.
Jallepalli said that rivalry was also at the root of a shootout in North Richmond about a month before Ayyad's murder.
In addition, Donald committed multiple felony offenses as a juvenile, including bringing a gun to school, Jallepalli said.
"This was someone who was aware of the dangerousness of his conduct -- frankly, it was a matter of time before something like this happened," the prosecutor said.