When he was sentenced to serve 100 years in prison in 2009, Michael Pace offered no apology for his actions two years earlier, when the then 16-year-old stepped onto a CTA bus loaded with high school students, and opened fire with a handgun.
On Wednesday, for the first time, Pace, now 27, offered up the apology he claims he intended to give after he pleaded guilty to murder charges in the death of honor student Blair Holt.
Pace,who learned to read in prison after being sentenced for the murder of his former Julian High School classmate, read from handwritten notes, his baritone voice choked with emotion and tumbling over college-level vocabulary.
His face streaked with tears, he closed by looking toward Holt’s parents in the courtroom gallery and offered a few unscripted remarks.
“Anything I could do, if I could give my own life, I would,” Pace said. “You all ain’t done nothing to me.”
An appeals court two years ago ordered a new sentencing hearing for Pace, based on allegations of bias shown in the lengthy monologue Judge Nicholas Ford gave before handing down the 100-year sentence in 2009. Now in front of Judge Matthew Coghlan, Pace’s lawyer argued that Pace could be sentenced to as few as 32 years.
It remains to be seen if Coghlan will be swayed to reduce Pace’s sentence at a hearing set for Jan. 9, but Pace’s emotional mea culpa fell on deaf ears as far as Holt’s parents are concerned.
“We hope that … it’s nothing less than what we’re seeing right now, there now something that stays up there, that keeps him incarcerated 90 years,” Holt’s father, Chicago Police Cmdr. Ronald Holt, told reporters in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building. “He doesn’t deserve one day, one second, minute, hour, week or one month or one year of reduction in this sentencing phase.”
A defense expert testified that Pace had suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child, and had been raised by a mother who cared for seven other children. His father was in prison, and in the years immediately before the shooting, Pace’s family had moved from the Robert Taylor Homes to a series of Section 8 apartments in violent neighborhoods. Testing showed Pace had an IQ of 77.
On Wednesday, Assistant State’s Attorney Pat McGuire played surveillance video of Pace waiting for the CTA bus to arrive at a stop near the intersection of 103rd Street and South Halsted, waiting for a rival gang member, who was on the bus. Cameras inside the bus showed Pace stepping inside the doors and opening fire from beside the fare box as riders ducked for cover. Holt, who laid over one of his classmates to protect her from the gunfire, was struck in the abdomen and two other riders also were wounded.
McGuire noted that Pace has racked up violations while serving in prison, including a charge for hiding contraband that could be used as a makeshift knife.