Paula Montoya came to the cemetery to talk to her son.
“I hope you’re proud of me,” she told him. “You know how I hate coming out here to talk to you.” She told him the man who killed him was sentenced to 45 years in prison for murder.
Five years ago, her son, Ryan Lusk, was permanently paralyzed during a robbery on St. Patrick's Day weekend.
Lusk fought hard to live. He died 16 months later from a blood clot. He was 25.
“You took a part of my soul from me,” she told the defendant, Anthony Hill, as she made her victim impact statement on Tuesday.
She’d come to court not sure if she could forgive Hill, but she decided that she had to do it for herself and for her son.
“I believe my son forgave you before he died,” she told Hill, choking up. “I really do. I forgive you too. I forgive you.”
On the night Ryan was shot, police say Hill and his accused accomplice, Horace Jones, embarked on a crime spree. They abducted a school teacher at gunpoint. They drove her around to ATMs and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw money from her bank account.
Police say Jones held the woman while Hill confronted Lusk and a friend at gunpoint as they were leaving the St. Patrick’s Day festivities on Greenville Avenue in Dallas. Hill demanded money and fired three shots as Lusk tried to flee.
One bullet hit Lusk. It traveled through his right kidney, liver and a lung and then severed his spine.
Lusk testified at Hill’s trial in 2013. Hill was sentenced to 45 years on three felony counts.
He died a few months later.
“He never gave up,” his mother says in an interview. “He didn’t want to leave but he had to.”
Montoya remembers the last thing he told her. She was begging him to call a nurse for pain pills. He told her not to worry.
“I said, ‘I love you and he said, ‘I love you, too, Mom. I’ll see you tomorrow,'” she said.
After Lusk died, Hill and Jones were charged with capital murder – a crime that can result in the death penalty.
Montoya says she agreed to the plea deal for 45 years on the capital murder charge because she felt that was enough punishment. Jones refused a plea deal and will stand trial later this year.
Tuesday was a day years in the making because Hill’s attorneys had claimed he was being subjected to double jeopardy.
For Montoya, it was important to her to hear him admit he was guilty of murder. Hill won’t be eligible for parole until 2034.
Ryan's wife told Hill that he'd robbed their daughter of so much. “You've taken her father from her,” Kristen Vickers said. “And it's the only father she's ever known.”
At the cemetery, Montoya felt a weight lifted off her shoulders.
“Carrying that hate has destroyed my health, my ability to move forward,” Montoya said. “Everything in my life has changed. I'm tired of it, so now, today I was able to give that to him.”
His mom and wife will always remember the smiling young man.
He was a jokester, a skateboarder and a dancer. He told his mom once that what he missed most about not being able to walk was riding a skateboard. He learned to do tricks and go fast in his wheelchair.
The pictures on her son’s grave carry special meaning.
There’s one of him riding a bull as a youngster. In another taken after his injury, his hat’s turned backwards. There’s a big smile on his face.
She put his favorite saying on his grave marker, too. It goes, “Wipe the dirt off and keep on walking.” These are words she's trying to live by because that's what her son would want.
“He's at peace now,” she says. “He has been, and I think today he’s really at peace.”