OAKLAND — Moments after the man who paralyzed him with an errant bullet was sentenced to at least 60 years in prison, 12-year-old Christopher Rodriguez rolled his wheelchair next to the man and extended his hand.
"I forgive you," Christopher said to Jared Adams, 26, who shot the boy last year while Christopher was taking a piano lesson across the street from where Adams was robbing a gas station.
"I just wanted him to know that I did forgive him," Christopher said after the closed-door meeting. "What happened in the past happened. That is something my mom always tries to teach me, and my dad, that these thoughts (about the past) can't really help you.
"He wasn't trying to hurt me so that was something," Christopher continued.
It's an attitude Christopher has tried to maintain since Adams unknowingly shot the boy during the last of a series of crimes he committed from October 2007 through January 2008.
On Tuesday, Adams was sentenced to 70 years to life in prison for those crimes, one of which included carjacking former state Senate President Pro-Tem Don Perata. Adams could come up for parole in 60 years.
Christopher came to watch the punishment being issued, he said, to assure Adams that he did not hold a grudge against the man who changed his life.
"I really didn't know what to expect," Christopher said. "I just kind of wanted to see."
Christopher said he didn't really know what happened to him until days after the shooting when he woke up in a bed at Children's Hospital Oakland.
It was then that he was told a bullet Adams intended to be shot at a gas station attendant instead flew across Pleasant Valley Road, pierced a wall and lodged in Christopher's spine, leaving the boy paralyzed from the waist down.
Christopher was taking piano lessons at the Harmony Road Music School when the bullet was fired. He said though he didn't know what happened, he felt a pain in his back.
After much pain and suffering, the 12-year-old has tried to make the best of his situation.
He's a member of a wheelchair basketball team; he graduated sixth grade at Oakland's School for the Arts; and he is now learning how to work the lights and soundtracks for musicals held at the school.
Christopher said he switched from playing piano at school to an arts management major because he "always wondered what it is like to be behind the scenes."
And, he says and displays proudly, he can move his left leg in a circular motion.
Besides assuring Adams that he held no bad feelings against him, Christopher said it was important for him to appear at the sentencing to bring attention to his plight in hopes others would not follow the criminal path Adams took.
That path included carjacking two cars, stealing at least two others, robbing a gas station with a handgun and trying to outrun police during a high-speed chase that ended with Adams crashing a stolen Ford Mustang into the side of a Honda Accord carrying a woman, her mother and her baby.
Adams was arrested after the shooting and eventually charged with carjacking Perata two weeks earlier after further investigation by police.
This year, a jury found Adams guilty of 12 felonies, including attempted murder and carjacking.
Though Adams, shedding tears, said, "I hate myself for these actions," Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman said he deserved no sympathy.
"There are people in our community who are criminals because they choose to be," Goodman said. "Jared Lacey Adams is the poster child. A self-centered, unrepentant criminal who is truly sorry for only one thing, that he didn't (get away)."
Goodman said evidence in the case, including testimony from Adams, proved to him that the Oakland resident would have continued a life of crime if he had not been caught after shooting Christopher.
And Goodman said it was a shame because Adams displayed skills in both driving and auto mechanics but chose to use those skills for evil.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Jared Adams has skills," Goodman said. "He used his mechanical skills to take from others and his driving skills to run away."
Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, who prosecuted the case, said she was pleased with the sentence issued by the judge.
"He showed us that he would do what he wanted, when he wanted," she said. "When he wanted money, he committed a robbery. When he wanted a car, he stole it."
Although the case presented the worst the city has to offer, both Goodman and O'Malley said it also displayed the best as both praised the Oakland Police Department for its investigation and the Rodriguez family for their ability to forgive.
Christopher's mother, Jennifer Rodriguez, said she hopes the event will enter the minds of others who think about a life of crime.
"I want to remind you that life is precious. What happened that day was not a video game where you shoot people and then press the reset button and everyone gets up and walks away," she said. "Jared, if you can find the way to honestly deal with what led you to take the actions you took "... and if there are agencies or programs that will listen to you, then I hope you will be able to prevent even one person from taking the path that brought us here today."
Sketch by Joan Lynch
Christopher, second from left, addresses Jared Adams during Adams' sentencing Tuesday at the Rene C. Davidson Superior Courthouse in Oakland. Adams shot and paralyzed Christopher.
Christopher Rodriguez ,12, publicly forgave the man who shot and paralyzed him, at the gunman's sentencing Tuesday in Oakland.