COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jarvis Hall had no intention of speaking Tuesday as he agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing a police officer in South Carolina in a plea deal to spare him from the death penalty.
But then the widow of Forest Acres police officer Greg Alia forgave the man who shot her husband in the back of the head as he checked on a suspicious person complaint almost two years ago, saying she imagined Hall as a little boy, before he gave into crime and violence.
"I was touched by officer Alia's widow. Her words and his sister's words, saying she forgave me — I didn't expect that. I am sorry for their loss," said Hall, 35, who spent three semesters in college studying to be a pharmacist and was at the Richland Mall that day in a stolen van with two stolen guns.
Kassy Alia mourns for her husband. She spent much of Tuesday's hearing rubbing their wedding ring she now wears on a chain near her heart with her husband's band on her ring finger. She talked about how the world lost a great police officer, son, brother and father with his own son who turned 6 months old the day he died.
But she also said Tuesday she mourns for a family who will never see their son, brother or father free after he pleaded guilty to murder.
"My heart crumbled the day my husband was killed. And my heart aches for Mr. Hall," Kassy Alia said.
Greg Alia, 32, was working with an officer trainee on Sept. 30, 2015, when a call came in about a suspicious man sitting on a bench outside the mall in suburban Columbia. Two other Forest Acres officers were on their way, but Alia thought that would be a good lesson for the new officer.
Hall looked up as the officers approached and said "not today" before running inside the mall, prosecutor Dan Goldberg said.
The three officers chased him. Alia was the fastest. He caught Hall in a service hallway and the two fell to the ground, wresting. Hall managed to get the .40-caliber handgun he stole in a robbery weeks before and shot the officer in the back of the head, Goldberg said.
More than three dozen officers from several jurisdictions packed the Richland County courtroom. Many of them were in uniform.
Some of them wiped away tears as Alia's widow, father, mother and sisters spoke. They talked about an Eagle scout who loved being a new dad to his first child, Sal. They spoke of Alia following a dream to be in the movies, but realizing he could do more for the world as a police officer.
Goldberg read a letter from Alia's father, Richard, who dissolved in tears on his wife's shoulder. He remembered the day his son died. He glanced up and saw a Forest Acres police vehicle and thought his son was stopping by for a cup of coffee as he often did on duty.
But then he saw it was an SUV accompanied by a Richland County Sheriff's car and the Forest Acres chief stepped out.
"Even today, that dreadful scene still haunts me," Richard Alia wrote.
Greg Alia was buried three days after he died in a torrential downpour that would turn into some of the worst flooding areas near Columbia have ever seen. His patrol car, turned into a memorial with flowers and signs, flooded to the windows.
But outside the courthouse Tuesday where Kassy Alia made sure to hug every officer she saw the skies we cloudless and a brilliant police blue.
She hugged Forest Acres Chief Gene Sealy last. "Feels like it should be raining," she said, smiling.
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