After 19 witnesses, 49 pieces of evidence and a 19-year sentence, Doris Nowillo stood before a courtroom and forgave the man who murdered her father.
“He’s a human being,” she said of Eric Cherry, a 47-year-old homeless veteran with a lengthy rap sheet.
He was sentenced on Wednesday, June 13 for first-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault and faces almost two decades in prison for the 2008 killing. Cherry was found guilty of beating 65-year-old Nicolas Nowillo to death outside his Astoria home on September 3, 2008, while his family watched, powerless.
During the sentencing, Doris read her impact statement, lamenting Cherry’s choices and offering the hope that he finds his way back to society. She told the judge that Cherry should serve only 12 years.
After she spoke, Cherry apologized.
“I never meant to take his life,” he said. “I apologize for that night.”
Comforted by his admission, Nowillo said the sentencing was the greatest Father’s Day gift she could have ever given her dad.
Nicolas emigrated from Ecuador when he was 15 and joined the Army after graduating high school. He worked as a jeweler for over 30 years, using the job as a means to socialize and connect with people. He brought couples together, saying things like “what are you waiting for, let’s do this!” to hesitant grooms on the verge of proposing.
In 1969 he married Doris’s mother, Dora. The couple came to the United States from the same small town in Ecuador as children, unaware of the other’s existence, and met in Queens. Once married, they travelled together to new destinations twice a year. In 2008, he found a way to get them into Cuba.
Nicolas’ weekends were reserved for family. On Saturdays, he cheered on the sidelines at his grandsons’ sporting events and watched football games on television. On Sundays he took his family out to eat at a local diner.
A renowned social butterfly, Nicholas attracted others with his inimitable sense of humor, doing imitations and mimicking the accents of people from other nationalities. At the memorial service held the Sunday after he passed, more than 600 people were in attendance.
“My father led the path to who I am today,” said Doris. “I have a great foundation. I wanted to become my dad.”
Since her father’s death, Doris said she and her family gained a fiercely invigorated outlook on life. In the same year Nicolas was murdered, her sister’s two-year-old daughter Zara passed away from Influenza A. Doris’ son was also diagnosed with Long QT syndrome, a heart condition, in 2008.
“Since [his] death, I’ve started to really live,” she said. “We all did.”
“I can’t promise tomorrow,” she continued.
Doris carries her father with her around her wrist in a neon green plastic bracelet, representing Nicolas’s affirmative stance as an organ donor, and in her inherited, trademark dimples.
A day after the sentencing, Doris received an email from her pastor. He heard the statement she gave in court and expressed how incredible it was to see her forgive Cherry. He said it showed the incredible example set before her by her mother and father.
“People should live life and forgive,” said Doris. “If you have a father, treasure him. There are other special men in my life, but there is no Nick.”