VERNON, Conn. -- The man who fatally stabbed University of Connecticut football player Jasper Howard during an on-campus fight in 2009 tearfully apologized to Howard's family Friday as he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
John Lomax III, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with his hands and feet shackled, sobbed loudly as he told Howard's family that he regretted what he did.
"I know it hurts. I know it hurts," Lomax said to Howard's relatives and friends in a courtroom packed with more than 70 people. "I would never want this to happen to any family. Even though you may despise me, I don't despise you. We're all God's children. I don't hate y'all. I love y'all."
The 22-year-old Lomax, of Bloomfield, had been charged with murder, but pleaded no contest to first-degree manslaughter in January. He had faced up to 20 years in prison.
Investigators believe the fight started over a comment a player made about a woman. Howard died of a single stab wound.
Rockville Superior Court Judge Terence Sullivan noted that Lomax had no previous criminal record, had a job and supported his child.
"You're really not a bad person, but you've done a very, very bad thing," Sullivan told Lomax. "You took the life of Jasper Howard ... and there was no reason for it. In taking his life, you took from him and his family all that he was ... and all the things he could have been."
Howard's mother, Joanglia Howard, of Miami, Fla., was at first too emotional to speak, but she gathered herself and told the judge that Jasper, a 20-year-old junior cornerback for the Huskies, dreamed of playing in the NFL.
"My son was taken from me," Joanglia Howard said. "He didn't do nothing to nobody. Just took his life for no reason. My heart is torn apart. I miss my baby so much."
Jasper Howard's girlfriend was pregnant when he died, and family members were sad that he was never able to see his daughter, who is nearing her first birthday.
For Howard, whose nickname was Jazz, home was an apartment in a rough neighborhood near Miami's Edison High School. His friends say he dreamed of making life better for his mother and two sisters.
"Jazz was uplifting and a loving, caring person," Sio Moore, who was Howard's teammate for two years, said as he read a letter he wrote with other UConn players. "You never saw Jazz without a smile. Each and every day, we remember his life."
State's Attorney Matthew Gedansky read a letter from former UConn coach Randy Edsall, who left the school in January to take the head coaching job at Maryland.
Edsall rushed to the hospital after Howard was stabbed and was the one who had to identify his body.
"I was devastated. As I stood over Jazz, I prayed for all the people his life touched," Edsall wrote. "There aren't words to describe the emotions that took over at that moment."
Only hours before the stabbing, Howard had one of his best games, Edsall said, with an interception, a forced fumble and 13 tackles in a 38-25 homecoming game win over Louisville. Edsall said Howard would have gone on to impress pro scouts.
The stabbing on Oct. 18, 2009, happened after someone pulled a fire alarm during a school-sponsored dance attended by hundreds of people at the Student Union.
A 23-year-old Hartford man, Johnny Hood, told police that he got into an argument with two men, later identified as football players Brian Parker and A.J. Portee, after Parker made disparaging comments about a woman.
Witnesses told police, according to an affidavit, that a group including Howard and a group including Lomax and Hood confronted one another outside the Student Union and punches were thrown. Lomax and Hood claimed football players took swings at them. Parker suffered a minor stab wound in the back during the melee.
Several football players, including Howard, walked to a spot near UConn's basketball arena, while Lomax and another man went back to their car and armed themselves, police said.
Another fight involving several people broke out several minutes later in front of the arena. Witnesses said Howard swung his fist at Lomax and Lomax countered by slashing Howard. Gedansky, the prosecutor, said Lomax cut an artery in Howard's abdomen.
UConn football player Michael Smith told police that Howard ran across the street yelling "They got me!" before collapsing.
Gedansky said there was no reason Lomax had to get a knife from his car or stab Howard.
"He went in for maximum damage and it worked," Gedansky said. He said Howard "was a rising star on the field and he was a rising star off the field. His loss is enormous."
No football players were charged in the fighting.
Hood is charged with breach of peace and interfering with police. The cases against him and several other people charged in connection with the fighting remain pending.
Lomax's mother, Troylyn Grimes, was too distraught to speak at Friday's sentencing, but she wrote a letter that was read aloud in court by Lomax's aunt.
"He was a respectful child and has grown into a respectful young man and father," Grimes wrote.
She said he was a 2006 graduate of Bloomfield High School who went on to attend Manchester Community College before putting his education on hold to provide for his daughter.
Grimes pleaded with the judge to have mercy on her son.
Lomax's grandmother, Deborah Maddox, said her family knew what it was like to lose a loved one. She said Lomax's father died when Lomax was 12. Lomax sobbed loudly during her comments.
"This is an awful situation that my grandson got himself into," Maddox said. "He's not a gangster. God knows that his heart is humble and I know he feels bad for Jasper Howard's family. There's a lot of families that got destroyed."