Nicole Brinkman wears a remembrance of her father around her neck.
A silver, heart-shaped pendant features his birthstone and his thumbprint and contains some of his ashes.
The words etched on the back are what he always told her: “Smile, honey.”
“A little piece of him is with us,” Brinkman said. “He’s someone that I turned to when I needed him. He always had great advice.”
Michael Brinkman was fatally shot at his home and in front of his teenage son nearly two years ago after two men in clown masks came to the house with the intention of robbing him.
LeAndre Jennings, who prosecutors believe was the shooter, was ordered Thursday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Douglas County District Court Judge Kimberly Miller Pankonin sentenced 31-year-old Jennings to life in prison plus 70 to 85 years. A jury convicted him of first-degree murder and two weapons counts in October.
Brinkman had just sold his 26-year-old roofing company, Xcel Roofing, for $1 million, and planned to watch his son Seth finish high school. He also loved playing hide-and-seek with his young granddaughter — Nicole’s daughter, now 6 years old.
But Jennings and another gunman came to Brinkman’s house near 180th and Q Streets on Dec. 22, 2016, intending to rob him. Brinkman’s longtime girlfriend, Kim Milius, answered the door, thinking for a brief moment that it was a joke.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Brenda Beadle likened the attack to something “straight out of a horror movie” because the men wore masks, brandished guns and fought the family in their own home.
Brinkman, 50, was fatally shot after his son Seth Brinkman fought the gunmen with a shower rod.
Prosecutors have said they know the second man’s identity but haven’t charged him because there’s no physical evidence that places him at the scene.
Jennings, however, left a crucial item behind — a piece of Texas toast with a large bite mark out of it. Analysts tested the DNA on the toast, and the odds that it belonged to anyone but Jennings were 1 in 123 octillion. (An octillion has 27 zeroes.)
However, Jennings still said he was innocent and Public Defender Tom Riley said he plans to explore Jennings’ right to appeal. Ignoring Riley’s advice to not comment, Jennings offered condolences to the Brinkman family but maintained that he had nothing to do with it.
“I’m sorry they had to go through this unforeseen event that took place,” Jennings said. “But I’m claiming my innocence. I did not commit this crime. I do not have knowledge of who committed this crime.”
Nicole Brinkman said after the hearing that evidence proves otherwise.
“I’m sure he does think he’s innocent, because no one wants to admit wrong,” she said. “But the evidence shows it, and we know he’s not.”
Several of Jennings’ relatives left the courtroom in tears. His aunt, Carla Prince, said he’s a good man.
Riley had said that Jennings’ prior felonies were for nonviolent crimes, while Beadle said Jennings knew gang life since he was 14 years old.
Milius’ letter to the court detailed the trauma that she and Seth, now 18, have faced since that violent night. They have since moved and still attend monthly therapy and counseling, she said.
“Nobody should have to experience this type of pain, especially a 16-year-old boy who loved his dad so much,” Milius wrote. “It’s going to be years before we feel like we can be safe again.”
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