Things couldn't get much worse for Cordell Adams in Common Pleas Court yesterday afternoon. Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes had just found him guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison without a chance for parole.
Then he really made the judge mad, after she asked if he had anything to say for himself.
Adams, 25, who was convicted of the murder and robbery of North Philadelphia pizza-shop owner Aly Elkaeid, seemed to suggest that he had pulled the crime to support his 7-year-old daughter.
"Don't you ever tell me you have to steal to support your family," she scolded him.
"That's an excuse. You're smart, Mr. Adams, you could have made other choices," continued Hughes, who said that her father, despite lacking a formal education, raised five children by working hard.
"Busting your back ain't never hurt anybody," she added.
Adams, who waived his right to jury trial, was the masked man who entered Carnival Pizza on June 2, 2008 at around 11 p.m. - closing time.
The shop, on 23rd Street near Clearfield, is a block from Adams' home.
"I went to the store on the spur of the moment to rob the store . . . and it went another way," Adams said on the witness stand.
He told his defense attorney, Sam Stretton, that he wanted only to rob the place, where he had eaten before and even knew the owner's name, and never intended to hurt anybody.
When he pointed his silver semiautomatic pistol at Elkaeid, 44, and asked for money, the owner first said, "Take what you want," Adams said, before he attempted to grab for the gun.
Elkaeid and two male shop employees then rushed him, Adams said. "I attempted to flee, and while I'm attempting to flee I'm being hit by a deep-dish pan and I'm rustling and tussling with these men."
In the commotion Adams fell on the slippery floor, he said, and the gun went off.
"Mr. Elkaeid is dead because he didn't simply give you the money and let you go?" Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo asked incredulously.
"I would say he is dead because of the struggle," Adams replied.
Hughes said that she did not believe Adams' version of events because his type of gun does not fire easily.
"It takes nine-and-a-half pounds to fire that gun. . . . That's a 10-pound bag of potatoes, which would make my wrist hurt trying to carry it at the grocery store," she said.
"And you fired it at that little man. He was five feet four inches," she said, noting that after the first shot, three more were fired.
Elkaeid, a native Egyptian, was hit by at least three slugs in the chest and shoulder, Zarallo said.
While he lay dying, his friends and employees overpowered Adams, sat on him and held a knife to his neck until police arrived.
Adams was also sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison, to be served concurrently, for one count of robbery, and was ordered to pay $1,535 in court costs and $4,000 to his victim's widow for funeral expenses.