An hour before a judge sent one of her son’s killers to prison forever, Nicole Poss was at the cemetery where Sam Poss’s ashes are interred.
“We’ve come this far,” she whispered, her fingers trembling as she ran them over the marker bearing her dead boy’s full name: Samuel Christian Poss.
She can’t touch him anymore, so his name, in raised, golden letters, is all she has.
“That makes me feel like I can touch him,” she said.
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Above his name dangled a silver, heart-shaped ornament, one she bought after Sam was murdered nearly two years ago at age 18.
“Love you,” the ornament reads, “to the moon and back.”
As she patted the letters once more, Nicole Poss said, “He’s gonna have to give me some strength today.”
Then she was done, ready to face a killer in court — or as ready as she could be — the very killer, a teenager, who had at times in the past been in her living room as a friend of her son’s.
“A kid,” she would say, “with no conscience, who could lob my son in a ditch.”
Sixty minutes after her visit to the columbarium at Perry Memorial Gardens on Tuesday morning, Nicole Poss was in Houston County Superior Court, awaiting word on the fate of convicted killer Dakota White’s prison sentence.
In May, White and his accomplice, Brandon Warren, were found guilty of murder in the 2016 stabbing-and-strangulation slaying of Sam Poss.
Lawyers for White, now 19, had argued that because he was 17 when the killing happened that he should someday have a chance for parole.
But after hearing two days of recent testimony and arguments about what punishment is appropriate for White, Houston County Superior Court Judge Edward D. Lukemire on Tuesday ordered White locked up for the rest of his natural life.
“This defendant falls within that narrow class of juvenile murderers for whom the most severe sentence is proportional. … The defendant is in fact irreparably corrupt,” the judge said. “He exhibits an irretrievable depravity, which forecloses any reasonable prospects for rehabilitation. Sadly, he is permanently incorrigible.”
Sam Poss was killed in the wee hours of Oct. 15, 2016, after authorities said he was lured out by White, an acquaintance from Perry High School, to help him with a computer-game repair. Poss, who was handy with computers, agreed.
The repair, though, was a ruse to get Poss outside, so White and Warren could kill him. Prosecutors have said Warren and White had a suicide pact, and before killing themselves they wanted to see what it felt like to kill someone else.
White’s accomplice, Warren, now 20, already has been sentenced to life without parole.
Because White was a juvenile at the time of the killing, his sentencing was put off, so his attorneys could argue for leniency.
After Tuesday’s hearing, Poss’s parents, Nicole and Christian Poss, spoke to reporters outside the courtroom.
Asked of her thoughts when the judge rendered his sentence, Nicole Poss said, “Relief ... and then sadness.”
“The senselessness,” Christian Poss, 48, said of his son’s murder, “you can’t grasp it. … You understand an accident. You can even understand a robbery or something. But you don’t understand just pure evil.”
Word that White and Warren’s convictions will in all likelihood be appealed left their victim’s parents, as Christian Poss put it, “frustrated.”
“You don’t have to appeal it,” he said. “They could stop. … Everyone knows that the crime was committed and that the people are guilty. If you had even a modicum of decency you would just stop. … You got what you deserved.”
Nicole Poss, 46, said she wanted to remind folks that “Dakota and Brandon are still people. … Their families hurt.”
She went on to say that the death penalty, which her son was against and which White was too young to even face in this case, was not something she wanted.
“They’re young men who don’t seem to care about anything,” she said. “Death may be too easy.”
Nicole Poss was asked how she would describe her son to someone who never got the chance to meet him. Sam Poss had been captain of the drum line in Perry High’s marching band. He had aspirations of joining the Navy.
“My beautiful, smart-ass, cute, loving, respectful, caring boy,” Nicole Poss said.
“Especially smart-ass,” Christian Poss joked.
Nicole Poss would later say that she had at times stared at White and Warren during their trials in search of hints of remorse. She saw none.
Sometimes people tell her the killers “deserve to be under the ground,” and sometimes she is asked how she kept from killing them herself. Inside her head, though, all she can do when she hears that kind of talk is to scream to herself, “Sam’s still dead!” Revenge will not bring him back.
Later when a reporter asked her privately about the tattoos on her wrists — one reads, “Breathe,” the other, “Faith” — Nicole Poss untied her right sneaker and tugged off her sock.
The tattoos on her wrists had come before Sam’s murder. But on her foot is an eternal reminder, another tattoo.
The tattoo is the exact likeness of a note that Sam, in the handwritten scrawl of a child, once wrote to her: “I Love You Mom.”
“It’s the same, everything,” she said. “It’s even got his ashes in it.”