GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Percy and Paula McClendon say they're relieved they got justice for their son, Zach McClendon, who was murdered two years ago.
Earlier in April, one of the men accused of murdering Zach pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
"You can't prepare yourself for hearing about how your son was brutality murdered," said Paula.
McClendon remembers fighting back tears as she took the stand to face the man accused of killing her son.
"It was very, very hard to talk about what happened. Very heartbreaking just remembering that morning that I called our son, and he never called back," Paula said.
Zach, 25, was shot and killed in his apartment outside Oxford on December 18, 2013. The Ole Miss graduate student was preparing to head home to Gulfport for Christmas. His neighbors, Derrick Boone and two other men, were charged in the capital murder.
"We did hear how it all happened and the gruesomeness of it," added Paula.
After two days of testimony, the district attorney said another defendant, Steven Wilbanks, suddenly wanted to testify about Boone's involvement in Zach's murder. Boone agreed to plead guilty and accepted the penalty.
The McClendons say Boone then turned around, faced the couple, and broke down.
"He said if we could find it anywhere in our heart in the future to forgive him for what he'd done, he hopes that we could because he was terribly sorry," said Percy.
When asked if he felt the apology was sincere, the grieving parent said, "Yes, it was and I told him right then, 'You're forgiven.'"
The couple hopes the case will serve as a lesson for other young people.
"Some part of me was relieved, but another part of me, I cried. I still cry, because I'm sorry that people mess up their lives and their family's lives by making stupid mistakes," said Paula.
And like they always do, the McClendons said a prayer for Zach.
"He's in heaven, so I did kind of tell him that I know justice was done for you son. We feel like justice happened," said Paula. "We did have mercy so he could still see his family. Yet, we did not want him to get out and do that to someone else's family."
Trial dates for the other two defendants, Steven Wilbanks and Joseph Lyons, have not been set.
It is not the first time the family has had to cope with tragedy. Seventeen years ago, Percy's 20-year-old son from another relationship was also killed while attending the University of South Alabama in Mobile. According to McClendon, Santos Malone was shot six times, robbed and his body left in a ditch. That crime remains unsolved.