AIKEN - At 37, Susie Summers Bookman was the youngest of nine siblings, but she also was in many ways their leader, her mother said Monday.
So it was especially wrenching for family members when she was gunned down by a lover three years ago this week.
On Monday, Ms. Bookman's killer, 38-year-old Mitchell Daniels, pleaded guilty in Aiken General Sessions Court to her murder. He was sentenced by Judge James C. Williams to 35 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
"Words can't express the hardship this family has gone through," said Suzanne Summers, the matriarch of the Summers family, who buried her youngest child on her 71st birthday. "Mitch, I don't have any hate in my heart for you, but I do ask why."
Mr. Daniels offered no explanation for shooting Ms. Bookman in the back outside her mobile home in Windsor. He allowed family members, his pastor and his lawyer to speak for him.
"He says he doesn't know what prompted him to do what he did," said the Rev. James Reynolds, as Mr. Daniels stood silently. "He knows he's done a terrible thing. His family hurts, and their family hurts. He has great remorse."
According to Assistant 2nd Circuit Solicitor Ben Moore, in late April 2001, members of the Summers family moved several mobile homes onto property they owned in the Windsor area. Ms. Bookman was spearheading the family project to refurbish the homes and was working along with her sister Marie when she was confronted by Mr. Daniels, with whom she had recently ended a relationship.
An electrician who witnessed the incident said he heard Mr. Daniels yelling at Ms. Bookman prior to the shooting, then saw him pull a small handgun from a pouch in his sweatshirt before firing twice.
Ms. Bookman was able to stagger to her sister's house for her help, but died from internal bleeding while en route to a hospital.
"This loss has been very traumatic for us because we are such a close family," said one of Ms. Bookman's sisters, Genova Summers Jenkins.
Ms. Bookman left behind two daughters, now 7 and 14.
"We love our nieces, but we can't be that mother for them," Ms. Jenkins said.
Mr. Moore said part of the delay in adjudicating the 3-year-old case came from a pair of court-ordered mental evaluations determining Mr. Daniels' competency to stand trial. There had been some question as to Mr. Daniels' mental capacity, but state health officials declared him competent.
After receiving his sentence, Mr. Daniels embraced several weeping relatives before being led away by jail officials. Afterward, outside the courthouse, members of both families consoled one another.
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.