NEW PORT RICHEY — Debra Adams had waited more than three years to address the man who killed her daughter.
"Our family is forever broken," she had written.
But when the moment came Friday morning, after a Pasco County jury had convicted Bryan Gregory Heater of the 2008 shooting that killed Kellie Zorka, Adams couldn't speak without crying. She held a photo of Zorka and Zorka's son, Donavon, who was 17 months old when his mother was killed. She handed her written statement to a victim's advocate, who read it for her.
"I will live with this pain and sorrow for the rest of my life," Adams, 57, had written.
The jury deliberated about four hours Thursday night and Friday morning before finding Heater, 31, guilty of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted second-degree murder.
He was sentenced to life in prison on the murder charge, followed by a pair of life sentences for the attempted murder counts.
The case stems from a fight that broke out in the wee hours of Feb. 24, 2008, as closing time sent people spilling into the parking lot of Diamonds Gentlemen's Club on State Road 54. Witnesses testified that the brawl was all punching and kicking until Heater pulled out an Uzi-style gun from his car and began firing.
One bullet zinged by a bouncer's ear, deafening him for hours. Another bullet hit the arm of Anthony Monti. Zorka, Monti's friend, was shot in the head.
She lingered in a coma for a few days before dying. Images of Zorka in the hospital are constantly in Adams' mind.
"Seeing her die in front of me," Adams recalled in an interview Friday. Her voice went faint. "There was nothing I could do to help her, except pray and scream, 'Do not leave me! You promised you would never leave your mama!' "
Adams thinks of such things every day. She had to quit her job working at an assisted living facility because she couldn't function.
"Every day is a challenge," she said. "It changes your life forever."
Zorka, 27, of Spring Hill had been out that night celebrating her new life as a mom and certified nurse's aide. She stopped by Diamonds, where she had once worked, to show old friends some new pictures of her son, whom she adored. She had been living with her mother and was slated to begin a new job that Tuesday.
"Nothing against you and Pops," Zorka told her mother, "but I'm not going to need anybody to make a good life for my son. I'll be able to do it myself."
"Yes, you will, Kel," her mother told her. "Yes, you will."
Zorka was elated.
"She was lit up. Completely lit up," Adams said. "You could see the happiness in her eyes."
As Circuit Judge Michael Andrews sentenced Heater to prison Friday morning, he told Heater that he ruined two lives that night in the parking lot: Zorka's and his own.
For a long time, Adams had wanted the death penalty. But she couldn't see taking another child away from a family.
"I couldn't find it in my heart to let another parent or loved one go through the hell this family has been through," Adams said.
She said she is content with the verdict. She hopes that now she and her family might find some closure. They still feel raw and in shock, as though the murder happened weeks ago, not years ago.
She said Donavon, for many months, screamed at night for his mother. Adams would hold him and rock him and tell him it was okay. He still asks about his mother. A few weeks ago, he said to Adams, "I don't have a mommy anymore."
Adams plans to explain to him the details of what happened when he's older.
"He'll see that his mommy got justice," Adams said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.