When Antonio and Joshua Chaney stood before a judge Thursday to answer for their roles in a 2007 Charlotte motel murder, the two families torn apart by the crime sat on opposite sides of the aisle.
Moments after the brothers were sent to prison, two of their family members embraced a loved one of their victim.
Nobody was supposed to get hurt when the Chaneys, 17 and 18 at the time, joined Bobby Johnson in the May 2007 robbery of the Thrift Motel on North Tryon Street.
In fact, motel security guard David Rychlik was pistol whipped. He and a hotel resident were robbed.
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Johnson and the Antonio Chaney then took the injured guard’s keys and unlocked the apartment he shared with his wife, Anita, the hotel manager. It was 1 a.m. Anita Rychlik was sound asleep. By the time the two intruders left, Rychlik had been beaten and shot once in the back of the neck. She was 45.
Four years later, Johnson and the Chaneys were linked to the crime by DNA evidence. In October, Johnson was convicted of first degree murder and sent to prison for life without parole. The Chaneys, who earlier admitted their guilt, testified against him.
On Thursday, 8 1/2 years after Rychlik died, it was the brothers’ turn at the front of the courtroom.
On one side of the court, the brothers’ uncle, Ronald Chaney, and their cousin, Anita Moss, watched from a back row.
Across the aisle, Anita Rychlik’s sister-in-law Betty – for privacy reasons, she asked that her last name not be used – sat alone with her tears.
As the Chaneys were led, handcuffed and shackled, into the courtroom one at a time, Moss left her seat and walked down the aisle, trying to let the brothers know she was there. A deputy blocked her and directed her back to her seat. Later, she said she was stunned to see her cousins in chains.
“They are good boys. They were never in any kind of trouble,” she said. “It was very hard to watch.”
Given the chance to speak, Ronald Chaney told Superior Court Judge Bob Bell that his nephews were just kids when they took up with Johnson, an older man, and have expressed “a whole lot of remorse for what happened.”
“They never thought anyone would get hurt,” he said.
Under the terms of their agreement with prosecutors, the Chaneys were allowed to plead guilty to lesser charges. Superior Court Bob Bell sentenced Joshua Chaney to a minimum of 15 years and nine months in prison. Because he entered the apartment with Johnson and was there when Anita Rychlik died, Antonio Chaney, 25, got a longer sentence – at least 18 years. Neither brother spoke.
Out in the lobby, Moss and Betty met for the first time. Within moments, they embraced and stayed in a full hug for almost a minute. Moss appeared to be whispering in the older woman’s ear.
Later, Moss described what she told Betty as “closing words.”
“I told her I was sorry for her loss,” Moss said. “I told her I hope that we can all move forward.”
They at least started that way. As the women crossed the lobby and walked toward the courthouse elevators, they were arm in arm.