Nadirah Ruffin's killers forced her to kneel on a bank of the Schuylkill before shooting her to death and dumping her body in the river.
That's what three defendants said Thursday in federal court in Camden as they pleaded guilty to their involvement in her death at 3 a.m. March 27, 2011.
The three - Shameria Smith, 26; Aziz Sanders, 20; and Deshawn Hicks, 21 - pleaded guilty to a single count of a federal weapons violation, a charge that carries a potential maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The three will also have to pay for Ruffin's funeral. Ruffin, of Atlantic City, was 19 when she was killed.
A working mother, Ruffin had a 4-year-old son and was attending community college when she was abducted during an invasion, robbery, and assault at the Atlantic City home of Monica Dunn.
Just over three weeks later, Ruffin's body, so badly decomposed that it was hard to confirm that she was African American, was discovered by a bicyclist on Martin Luther King Drive near Black Rock Road in Fairmount Park. She was identified through dental records.
Although Ruffin was killed March 27, 2011, the events leading to her death were set in motion four days earlier, March 23, according to a report in the Atlantic City Press.
Someone thought that Nadirah Ruffin was having an affair with Isiah Ruffin, who is not related, and confronted them. Dunn became involved through an acquaintance and accused Isiah Ruffin of groping her. Dunn's child's father retaliated against Isiah Ruffin, beating him and putting him in the hospital March 23, 2011.
Then, according to testimony in federal court Thursday, Isiah Ruffin's cousin Shameria Smith, upset at seeing her cousin's condition, decided to avenge the beating. She hatched a plan to go to Dunn's apartment.
Wearing dark clothes and masks, she, Hicks, and Sanders, who is also Isiah Ruffin's cousin, burst into Dunn's home at night March 26.
Smith waved a semiautomatic weapon. Sanders brought handcuffs and duct tape. Hicks helped him handcuff and duct tape four or five women who were in the apartment drinking, taking drugs, and watching television. Some of the women were assaulted, and the defendants stole 50 bags of marijuana and $500.
Nadirah Ruffin's fate was sealed when she recognized Smith and spoke up. After that, Smith said in court, she decided that Ruffin would have to die.
The three loaded Nadirah Ruffin, cuffed and bound with duct tape, into the back of a borrowed green minivan and drove her to Philadelphia. Taking her into Pennsylvania made it a federal crime and got the FBI involved.
When they arrived at the river, Smith said that someone would have to shoot Ruffin, but it couldn't be her because she had children. Eventually, Sanders got the gun. While Smith stayed in the van, the two men dragged Ruffin to the riverbank, and forced her to kneel, then Sanders shot her in the back of the head.
Federal courts do not typically handle homicides, although murder can be a federal crime. By pleading guilty to the weapons charges, none of the three defendants will have to go to trial, and they are also not likely to face New Jersey charges for the same crimes.
In court, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason Richardson and Matthew Smith told U.S. District Judge Joseph Rodriguez that they and defense attorneys had agreed that 35 years would be an appropriate sentence for Smith and 30 years for Sanders, with Hicks liable for some sentence between 10 years and life. Rodriguez set sentencing for Oct. 22 for Smith and Sanders and Oct. 23 for Hicks.
Ronnie Ruffin of Lindenwold, Smith's father, pleaded guilty to failing to tell FBI investigators that he knew Smith, Sanders, and Hicks were involved in the home invasion. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 19.
Ronnie Ruffin's brother Henry, of Williamstown, Sanders' and Smith's uncle, pleaded guilty to the same charge. He faces sentencing Sept. 17.
Isiah Ruffin pleaded guilty to providing false statements about the home invasion and kidnapping. His sentencing has been set for Oct. 23.