Jackie Craine was on the phone with a 911 operator Jan. 5, trying to give directions to her location in Fort Mill as an abusive ex-boyfriend threatened to kill her.
“Help me! Help me!” She screamed to the dispatcher as James Enrico Diago opened the driver’s side door of her SUV and pumped 14 bullets from a 9-millimeter pistol into her – from her chest to the top of her head.
“Bam, bam, bam, bam...” the sound of gunshots roared through a York County courtroom Monday as a recording of the 911 call was played. The awful gunshots echoed through the room.
Grown men, experienced cops, winced.
Court proceedings stopped right then, moans and wails. Painful anguish leaped forth from a distraught Craine family as they listened to the sound of Jackie Craine’s desperate pleas for help and her death from bullets.
A teenaged boy pounded the courtroom bench with a fist and the sound that came from his throat was pain and terror and loss.
Diago, 40, was sentenced to 40 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to murder, weapons charges and attempted murder.
The attempted murder is the crime that will haunt forever. It comes from the awful, horrible fact that Diago executed Craine, 34, as she sat next to her 16-year-old son, Jackel Clinton.
Jackel, the teen who pounded that courtroom bench, stood in court Monday, forced to be a man long before he should have had to do so. He told Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles about the slaughter of his mother as she sat next to him.
Jackie Craine could not testify: Her screams and the gunshots on tape are all that is left of a mother who took care of her children, worked two jobs and went to college to try to make a better life for her kids.
On that cold Jan. 5 morning, Jackel, Craine’s oldest; Aaron, 13; and Ja’Kira, 4 – the daughter of Diago and Craine – were getting ready for school and day care. Jackie Craine was braiding Ja’Kira’s hair and making her clothes just right.
Diago showed up at the house before 8 a.m.
“He was there at the door; my momma said let him in,” Jackel testified Monday. “Momma had to get my sister to school down the street.”
Jackel did not get on the school bus, he testified, because he was afraid of what Diago might do. He stayed to protect his mother.
Craine told Diago she would give him a ride to his car at some nearby apartments where his friends lived, but she made it clear that they were through.
“He (Diago) kept asking her questions,” Jackel testified. “Momma just kept saying, ‘I just want you to leave me alone.’”
Craine took her daughter into daycare, and had returned to her SUV when she found that Diago had taken the keys from the ignition.
Diago ran upstairs to a friend’s apartment and grabbed a gun. Craine called 911 to report what was happening. She tried to say where she was, what was happening. Diago ran toward her before the police could arrive.
“He said, ‘So you want me out of your life?’ and he just started shooting my mom,” Jackel testified. “I seen my momma was dead.”
Jackel, wounded, was able to climb out a shattered window and run somehow, with Diago chasing him.
Diago himself finally called 911, confessed to the killing and surrendered to the first officer to arrive.
Diago claimed in court Monday that he was “ashamed” and “sorry” for the brutal crime.
His lawyers, Harry Dest and Phil Smith from the public defender’s office, said Diago had mental problems that had never been addressed and came from a brutal life of abandonment, foster care and abuse himself as a child.
Diago talked for more than 10 minutes in court Monday, claiming he had never been loved until having a family with Craine and her sons and the daughter the couple had together.
But testimony showed that Diago stalked Craine, even through the night before the killing. He sent abusive text messages and made threats.
“A ticking time bomb” is what prosecutor Willy Thompson called Diago.
The court hearing Monday took about 90 minutes. The huge throng of Craine’s family and friends that had sobbed and cried for almost a year left the courthouse after one more afternoon of sobbing.
The family had hoped Diago would get 50 years in prison – at least. Some were upset that the sentence was not longer.
Prosecutors asked for 50 years. Defense lawyers asked for 30.
Judge Nettles said it was clear Diago had remorse for the killing, but the “horrible crime” came after “no semblance of rational thought.”
Aaron, 13, held a framed photograph of his mother Monday. He did not like the 40-year sentence.
“A life for a life is how I see it,” the teen without a mother said.
Jackel said he was just glad the nightmare was finally over. He didn’t want to talk about the sentencing or the killing of his mother as he watched.
He had told the judge how his sister now calls him “Daddy.” Jackel is just 16, and his sister turned 5 three weeks ago.
Yet Jackel the teen smiled, somehow. It was a handsome smile from a good kid who wrestled in high school at Nation Ford in Fort Mill before the shooting took away the innocence of sports and the simple joy of growing up.
Instead, Jackel will wrestle for the rest of his life with what happened in the cab of that truck. He will see that man and the gun in his hand that just kept shooting and shooting into his mother until all the bullets were gone.
Until his mother was gone, too.