LONDON (AP) — A drug dealer who killed a 9-year-old Liverpool girl when he tried to gun down a rival was sentenced to life in prison Monday for murder during an emotional hearing he refused to attend.
Thomas Cashman, 34, who declined to appear in Manchester Crown Court because he said the proceedings were “turning into a circus,” was convicted of murder in the Aug. 22 death of Olivia Pratt-Korbel. At the time, the child’s mother had tried to prevent Cashman’s intended target from barging into their home.
Cashman was trying to kill Joseph Nee over a drug debt when he opened fire on a street in Liverpool. Nee ran from the gunman and tried to force his way into Cheryl Korbel’s home. Cashman continued to fire as Korbel blocked the door and one bullet passed through her wrist and struck her youngest child in the chest.
Because of her own injury, the mother was helpless to aid her dying daughter.
“My worst nightmare was being separated from her when she needed me the most,” Cheryl Korbel said from the witness stand where she sat with a teddy bear named “Liv” made from her daughter’s pajamas. “I was the first person to hold my baby and I should have been the last.”
Justice Amanda Yip said the shooting that shocked the nation was a “planned execution” and even if the girl was not Cashman’s target he’d shown no regard to who might be struck by gunfire.
“The real gravity is that a young child was shot and killed in her own home,” Yip said.
Under the sentence, Cashman must serve a minimum of 42 years before being eligible for parole.
Cashman, who claimed he wasn’t the killer, was convicted by a jury Thursday of murder in the girl’s death, attempted murder for shooting Nee and for wounding Cheryl Korbel.
Cashman refused to appear because he heard prosecutors sang “We Are The Champions” after his conviction, defense lawyer John Cooper said.
Yip said Cashman’s no-show was disrespectful and she proceeded to sentencing without him.
His absence prevented the girl’s family who were wearing pink — her favorite color — from addressing him in person as they shared their grief.
Her father, John Pratt, told the court in a statement directed at Cashman and read by prosecutor Henry Riding that he had seen his daughter the day before she was killed for the first time in two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now she was forever frozen in time as a 9-year-old, deprived of a future and all the joys that would have lay ahead.
“I am heartbroken. Sometimes I just want to end it so that I can be with Olivia again,” he said. “I want to visit Olivia, and I sometimes sit outside the cemetery but I can’t go in because if I do it’ll all seem too real.”