A gunman who a judge said lived a “thug life,” turning a 20-year-old into a quadriplegic before the victim’s death nearly five years later, is heading to prison.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Terence Murphy on Monday sentenced Hamilton Croft to 15 years behind bars for the death of Daniel Flowers following a 2011 Hempstead shooting.
The victim’s aunt wept at the Nassau County Court sentencing, speaking of “a huge void” in her heart and life that “will never mend.”
“Two lives were lost, my Danny to tragedy, and yours to stupidity,” Gerry Flowers told Croft, 40, of Hewlett.
The Freeport woman said her once-athletic nephew, a student at Nassau Community College and a church usher, suffered through “four plus years of lying on his back” before his death as Croft lived a “drug-infested” life “without any care in the world.”
Croft pleaded guilty to manslaughter last month as his murder trial was about to start.
In March, Croft also pleaded guilty to heroin and conspiracy charges in connection with his role in a narcotics network that also ensnared a retired NYPD detective and a dozen other suspects.
Prosecutors have said the ring pumped about 23,000 doses of heroin a week onto the streets of Nassau, Brooklyn and Queens before a 2017 bust.
Croft will serve his sentence for the drug charges at the same time as his punishment for the shooting on July 3, 2011 that led to Daniel Flowers’ death in January 2016.
“My prayer is that you in your time of incarceration, you find a higher power. … Hopefully this will open the door for you to become a better person,” Gerry Flowers also told Croft. “As a Christian I say to you: ‘I forgive you.’ May God have mercy on your soul.”
Daniel Flowers, of Freeport, and a large group of friends were near a Main Street strip club when someone started shooting and gunfire hit the victim, authorities have said previously.
Police alleged in a felony complaint following Croft’s arrest in February 2017 that he intentionally fired a handgun several times, hitting Flowers once.
Croft told police at the time of his murder arrest that he opened fire after someone he’d previously met, not Flowers, threatened him with a gun before the two exchanged gunfire.
The bullet went in and out of Daniel Flowers’ neck in the shooting, but fragments went down his spine and caused his paralysis, according to his aunt.
The victim died of pneumonia and sepsis, complications of quadriplegia, and his family buried him on what would have been his 25th birthday.
Croft apologized Monday to Flowers’ family, saying he never meant to hurt anyone but that he and two family members “were accosted” after 12 people approached and tried to harm him.
“The only reason why I was able to accept this offer is due to the fact that I feel as if I broke God’s law, which is not to take another life,” Croft said of his plea deal.
But Croft also suggested the victim was part of a gang.
“I shouldn’t have had a gun that night,” Croft told the judge. “But I honestly feel that if I didn’t, you may be sentencing somebody else today for my murder.”
The judge said that if he didn’t have to follow the law, he would sentence Flowers to life in prison.
“You lived a ‘thug life.’ … You had a gun to protect yourself. They had a gun to protect themselves. One guy pulls a gun. You pull a gun. And an innocent life is lost. He wasn’t shooting at you,” the judge told Croft of Flowers.
Murphy also said he was sentencing Croft according to the recommendation of prosecutors and alluded to “facts and circumstances” that hadn’t become public.
“But the be-all and end-all, Mr. Croft, is that you’re a drug dealer and a killer and you deserve punishment,” the judge said.
The Nassau District Attorney’s Office said later in a statement that Daniel Flowers wasn’t the intended shooting target, but “was caught between the defendant’s gun and his apparent gang-related argument with a rival.”
The statement, which added that “each case is evaluated using a variety of criteria,” said Croft’s manslaughter plea “acknowledges his sole responsibility” and expressed hope that the case’s outcome would give the victim’s family “some measure of peace.”
Croft’s defense attorney, Mitchell Barnett, said after court that his client “took responsibility for what happened” and “gave his reasons.”
Gerry Flowers said later that the young man she raised as her own son hadn’t been in a gang but had plans to play football, as he had at Freeport High School, while continuing with his college education.
“I just thank God it’s over where all of us can move on,” she said, voice shaking as another wave of emotion broke over her. “I can’t fill my heart with malice. I can’t blacken my heart because then God can’t bless me in order to bless other people.”