In green jumpsuits and chains, Christopher and Cameron Ervin stood in front of a podium late Monday afternoon.
Christopher, the older, bulkier brother, spoke first. He apologized to the court and everyone in it. He'd been in a bad place that day and for several years before it, he said, addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Cameron, the younger, more eloquent brother, said much of the same. He was regretful and remorseful and didn't know how it had happened, and wanted to spend the rest of his life "showing God how grateful I am that he spared them" — "them" being the parents he and his brother had tried to kill.
"During my time that I have spent in the Gwinnett County Detention Center fighting this case, I've spent two birthdays in here," he said. "I've had at least one visit a week, which is at least 60 visits, with my parents, one on one. Thirty minutes a visit. That's over just a day, two days spent talking to one another. And I realize how much I love them. And I realize how much they love me."
Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor listened intently to the brothers' words, as he had to those of the assistant district attorney who wanted them to go to prison for 30 years. The young men's parents — the survivors of their attack — also spoke, asking for them to get 10 years, the lightest sentence legally possible.
By the end of the lengthy hearing — in which the brothers pleaded guilty to all 13 charges against them, including multiple counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault and armed robbery — the judge decided to split the difference.
Christopher and Cameron Ervin were sentenced to spend 20 years in prison, with 30 years of probation after that.
'Fighting for forgiveness'
Police believe that, on Sept. 5, 2015, then-17-year-old Cameron and 22-year-old Christopher served their parents Xanax-spiked cocktails at the family's home near Snellville. They then waited for their parents to fall asleep, cut a gas line and attempted to blow the house up before going back in to beat their mother, Yvonne, with a rifle and stab their father, Zachary, more than 10 times.
Yvonne Ervin was eventually able to call 911, and Gwinnett County police arrived to arrest her sons.
The parents' advocacy for their children began soon after.
Less than a month after the attack, they appeared on "Good Morning America" and called the incident "one bad moment." Though they'd remained mostly quiet publicly since then, Yvonne previously wrote a letter to a Gwinnett County judge asking for her sons' release.
They also launched a nonprofit foundation called "Fighting for Forgiveness."
"Fighting For Forgiveness, Inc. was founded as a result of a traumatic family event in September of 2015," the website says. "It gave us personal insight into the world of depression and how detrimental it can be when it goes undetected. God gave us the strength to forgive so that we could move forward with His plans for our lives."
Monday afternoon's plea hearing came on the same day a trial against the Ervin brothers had been scheduled to begin. It featured a Gwinnett County police detective detailing his department's findings in the case.
The parents were drugged at dinner, then went to a high school football game but returned home because they were drowsy. They woke up to their sons trying to smother them, and the beating and stabbing ensued.
The detective narrated as Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Hendee flipped through dozens of photos showing the bloody scene at the Ervins' home. As Yvonne's frantic 911 call — "please hurry, please" — was played, she and her husband grasped each other's hands and closed their eyes.
They later took the stand to ask for leniency, saying their sons had apologized, had shown genuine remorse and were "redeemable." They said their boys' battles with drugs and depression, demons they've now mastered, fueled the attacks.
Ten other people — family friends, fellow church members, a pastor, a teacher — also testified on the brothers' behalf.
Said Yvonne Ervin: "These are not the sons we raised. My sons would not do something like this."
Said Zachary: "That night, being in that room, being in that house that night, I saw Satan. And I knew shortly after that that what had happened to us wasn't my sons. And that's why I've been able to stand with them to be advocates for them."
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