A medical supplies salesman whose bullet-riddled body was found in a north Birmingham alley in 2018 thought he was getting into a rideshare when he climbed into the vehicle of a man who killed him instead.
Justin Lett, 28, was killed on Mother’s Day more than four years ago as he left Marty’s PM bar on the city’s Southside.
His body was found the following day near a shed about 60 feet off 11th Avenue North.
His grieving family on Wednesday spoke passionately about Justin, justice, and Cameron Cook, the 32-year-old man who pleaded guilty to Justin’s slaying.
The words of Justin’s parents, Debbie and Randy Lett, and his brother, Joshua Lett, were delivered in the courtroom of Jefferson County Circuit Judge Shanta Craig Owens during sentencing for Cook.
Cook in September was convicted of capital murder in the Aug. 12, 2018, shooting death of 55-year-old Denise Fassel in Ensley.
Cook was also convicted of four counts of first-degree robbery and one count of possession of a sawed-off shotgun used in what authorities called a “one man crime spree” that took place in one day just months after Lett was killed.
“My brother did nothing wrong. Birmingham is the third deadliest city in the nation because of people like Mr. Cook. There’s lawlessness and evil running rampant all throughout this city,’’ Lett’s brother said.
“You have a big-city crime epidemic in this small and miserably apathetic town,’’ Joshua said. “Birmingham’s ignorance and lack of action is partly to blame for taking my brother’s life.”
Joshua said his brother did not know Cook and thought he was getting into a rideshare when Cook pulled up outside the Birmingham bar that Sunday morning and “lured” Justin into a Volkswagen Passat, likely with the intention of robbing him.
“In sketchy Murderham, Alabama, that is all it takes to be killed. All you have to do is trust someone, believe someone is a good person who will do the right thing,’’ Joshua said.
“In Birmingham, being a decent human being may very well be the thing that gets you killed.”
As part of Cook’s plea agreement in Justin’s death, he avoided the death penalty in Fassel’s killing and received a sentence of life without parole in both murders.
Owens also sentenced Cook to life without parole for the four armed robberies in which two of the victims were elderly man and another was a pregnant woman, all of whom had to stare down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun.
Lett’s family wanted Cook to get the death penalty, even though capital punishment was not on the table in Justin’s case.
“Let it be known that justice was not served,’’ Joshua said. “Cameron Cook is a murderer. Murderers do not deserve to live.”
In the end however, Joshua said, Cook will have to face God.
“All the wickedness that you have done, the fear and suffering that you put my brother through, the pain and anguish you have put my mother through, my father and I, the devastation you have caused my family …on the day of your judgment, Cameron Cook, all the evil you have done in darkness will be brought to light in full. And the devil himself will not be able to save you from the wrath of God you have coming down on you. And it is coming.”
“God created the world in six days. Jesus died and rose in three,’’ Joshua said. “Trust He will damn sure make short order of you.”
Justin’s father, Randy, thanked Jefferson prosecutors Julie McMakin and Neal Zarzour for their work on the case, as well as Birmingham homicide Det. Phillip Harris.
“He is going to be on our win-win list for a very long time for doing his part to turn darkness into light,’’ Randy said of Harris.
Cook was defended by attorneys Tiara Hudson, Brittany Mercer and Tim Simonetti.
Justin’s family brought with them to court Wednesday enlarged photographs of their family and displayed them in front of the judge’s bench while they spoke.
Justin graduated from Samford University with honors, loved his family and his fiancé, and was said to have lived each and every day with a positive attitude. His motto was “Win the Day.”
Randy said he researched the definition of an impact statement – which is designed for victims to tell how the crime impacted them emotionally, physically, financially, psychologically and spiritually.
“It sounds easy, but to me it’s impossible to put into words,’’ he said.
Randy told the judge the most frequent comment he has gotten following his son’s death is, “I can’t imagine how you feel.”
“It feels like somebody took a laser beam and shot it into my chest and hollowed out everything in there including my heart, my soul, my spirit, even my will to live. It’s all gone,’’ he said. “Rainbows are ugly now to me. The emptiness is indescribable.”
“He loved people. We taught him not to hate. He had no enemies,’’ Randy said. “And ultimately that led to his death.”
Randy talked about the day Justin disappeared. They were supposed to meet at church that morning and then celebrate Mother’s Day.
Instead, they spent the next 24 hours looking for their loved one.
“On Mother’s Day 2018, Justin Lett was murdered by Cameron Cook for no other reason than perhaps a $100 rubber watch,’’ Randy said.
He added that his son’s wallet, keys, iPhone and necklace inscribed with Justin’s favorite Bible verse have never been found.
More than four years after his son’s death, Randy is still paying to keep Justin’s cell phone active. “I still get Justin’s greeting on voicemail,’’ he said.
Randy said he has a recurring nightmare of Justin face down in an alley trying to call him, gasping for air.
“I’ve had it probably 1,000 times,’’ he said. “We are currently in a war between good and evil and we lost a warrior.”
He, too, said he believed Cook should have to pay for Justin’s life with his own. “Someone has to tell the Cameron Cooks of the world that enough killing is enough, in all towns,’’ he said.
A tearful Debbie Lett told the court that her son loved with a big heart and always saw the good in others. She described him as, “One of God’s best.”
“How Justin lived and how he lost his life are worlds apart,’’ she said. “My pain is heavy. The sadness and the hurt will never go away. This was a senseless, evil, tragedy.”