Jackpot Mini Mart shooter sentenced to life in prison

Jul. 24, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Brian McQueen avoided the death penalty Wednesday, instead receiving a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for the shooting death of Imad "Eddie" Asmar in a 2009 robbery at the Jackpot Mini Mart.

But no one was present besides lawyers and bailiffs when the jury handed down its sentence Wednesday afternoon. McQueen had no family in attendance, and Asmar's family missed the announcement by about two hours — after having spent their days in the Lee County Courthouse for the past month — because they had to leave and travel back to their ancestral home of Jerusalem for the wedding of Asmar's oldest son, A.J., who also was a key witness in the trial.

Mike Beam, one of two assistant district attorneys prosecuting the case, said the family was crushed they had to leave but had no choice, since it could be their last chance to return if violence in the region escalates and puts even more barriers on travel.

But before they left, Asmar's brother Ali Mustafa — who also was shot by McQueen in the robbery at the Jackpot Mini Mart nearly five years ago — said that no matter what sentence the jury returned, his family believed justice was served last week when McQueen was found guilty of first-degree murder.

"We're satisfied, whatever it is — me and my family, and his kids and his wife," Mustafa said Wednesday morning before leaving for the airport. He said they were simply pleased to know that however the jury decided, McQueen would never again be a free man. And more importantly, he said, "Anything that happens to this guy is not going to bring my brother back."

McQueen's uncle took the stand in the sentencing phase, testifying about how his nephew grew up bouncing between drug-addicted parents and extended family who abused him physically and emotionally.

"Brian never had a chance," the uncle, Christopher McQueen, said. "He was behind the eight ball the whole time."

He pled for the jury to refrain from handing down a death sentence.

"I'm not excusing what he did because right is right, and wrong is wrong," the elder McQueen said before adding, "I believe if God can forgive people, then people can forgive people. ... So I'm going to ask the jury to have compassion on my nephew, and I'm going to apologize to the family because I know Brian didn't mean to kill that man."

Christopher McQueen wasn't there Wednesday to hear his request granted, and Brian McQueen barely reacted to the news that he won't be executed.

Mustafa said he wasn't looking for revenge. He just wanted closure, he said, for himself as well as his brother and his brother's widow, Majdela "Maggie" Ramouni, and two children, A.J. and Muhammad, who also made the trip back to their former home of Sanford for the trial along with Ramouni's brother.

Mustafa said when he arrives back in Jerusalem, he will not only begin preparing for A.J.'s wedding. He also will visit Asmar's grave there in the city.

"When we get there, I will go to the cemetery and tell him, 'Just relax,'" Mustafa said. "... All we wanted from this is for him to rest."

He said the lengthy trial took a toll on his family, especially since they were physically exhausted the whole time because it coincided with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the faithful can't eat or drink while the sun is up. But for all the frustrations and bad memories being relived, Mustafa said, he appreciated the work of Beam and the rest of the DA staff, as well as police and their former landlord, Jean McSwain, who came to court with them nearly every day.

"They were like family," he said.