NEW LONDON - It's been nearly two years since a Good Samaritan was killed outside of a Groton bar.
But, Wednesday, the healing process took another step for the victim's family.
Joey Gingerella was in a good place, winning his battle with opioid addiction. But, on the night of Dec. 11, 2016 he was in the wrong place.
"As his mom, I should’ve been there to hold his hand and kiss him goodbye," said a weeping Tammy de la Cruz, Gingerella's mother during Wednesday's sentencing of Dante Hughes, who shot her son to death. "This haunts me that he died right around the corner from our home."
The 32-year-old Hughes, who admitted to punching his girlfriend in the face, in the parking lot of Groton's Ryan’s Pub, was confronted on the fateful night by a group, including Gingerella, who Hughes said he thought was coming at him with a weapon.
So, Hughes pulled his gun, which he possessed illegally, and fatally shot Gingerella three times.
"What I thought (that night) was wrong," Hughes said as he faced Gingerella's family and friends in a second floor courtroom in New London Superior Court. "Honestly. And I’m sorry for that. I can’t bring your son back. I know I can’t. If I could’ve took that day back, I never would’ve done it, man."
Hughes was sentenced to 50 years in prison, requiring him to serve a minimum of 45 years. Gingerella's stepfather said he thinks about how the events of that night could have taken a different course.
"That night, Joey had asked if he could go with us to this fundraiser and we hadn’t bought the extra ticket," said a tear eyed Joe de la Cruz, Gingerella's stepfather. "It could have been different. Joey could’ve left early with another friend. That could’ve been different and we play this over and over in our head."
But, the smile of Joey Gingerella will live on in his almost one month old nephew, who's also named Joey.
Joe de la Cruz also noted that 20 minutes before the shooting, Joey Gingerella had asked Dante Hughes to play pool.