On May 17, Covington came up behind Patricia McDermott, a 48-year-old mother of two, and shot her in the back of her head on a Center City street.
Just months before, on March 7, Covington had ambushed Odies Bosket, a married 36-year-old father of four, firing several shots into him.
Covington also murdered his cousin, the Rev. Thomas Lee Devlin, in 1998, and tried to kill two neighbors, David Stewart and William Bryant Jr., who were both left with grave wounds.
Recalling the sense of fear that followed the random murder of McDermott last year, Lerner said his sentence of Covington - for three murders and two attempted murders - would halt "the circle of victimization." Covington is not eligible for parole.
Relatives of victims described to the judge the brutal impact of the murders on their lives.
The aunt of Odies Bosket, Dorothy Bosket Wright, came into the courtroom holding a folder with family photos - an enlargement from a Sunday dinner, a big group shot of Thanksgiving 2004.
She said her family was tight. A dozen of them, including Odies' mother from South Carolina, came to the sentencing.
Her nephew, she said, was an attentive father who was on his way to pick up his then-3-year-old daughter at day-care. He never made it. At the Logan subway station, he was killed by Covington.
"You slaughtered Odies as if he was prey," Bosket Wright told the courtroom.
The lack of a motive has tormented the McDermott family, too. McDermott was killed at 4:42 a.m. near Ninth and Chestnut Streets as she hurried to her job as an X-ray technician at Pennsylvania Hospital.
The shooting was caught on an outside security camera and aired repeatedly on television newscasts.
"It replays over and over in our minds," said Martin McDermott, the victim's brother. And to Covington, he said: "Did you watch yourself on the news?"
Angela Amarhanov, the 16-year-old daughter of Patricia McDermott, was overcome with rage as she tried to address the judge. Yelling at Covington, she said, "You can't even look me in the eye and see whose life you've taken!"
There were no relatives to speak on Covington's behalf. Defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. noted that a brother wanted to come but was reluctant to appear at the courthouse because of his physical resemblance to his brother.
None of the murder victims knew Covington. An anonymous tip led investigators to Covington, who confessed to the McDermott, Bosket and Devlin murders.
Two other men had been wrongfully jailed for the shootings of David Stewart and William Bryant. They were released after ballistic tests linked bullets in those shootings to Covington's gun.
Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron said all of the victims were targeted because Covington thought each was "the devil" and "doing things to him."
Covington used to work as a SEPTA bus driver, but later drove a truck for a medical waste hauler. One of his stops was Pennsylvania Hospital, where he used to see McDermott.
Peruto described his client as "severely mentally ill." He said Covington had a history of psychotic episodes going back 15 years.
Peruto said he could hold down a job, even argue with neighbors and an ex-girlfriend "without shooting them."
But with his murder victims, he said, "he felt he had a mission to exterminate the devil." He added that because he saw himself as "the chosen one," he did not originally want to plead guilty.
When questioned by the judge, however, Covington said he was not currently taking medication or being treated for mental illness. Lerner sentenced him to the state correctional facility in Waymart, Pa., which houses inmates needing psychiatric care.
After the sentencing, the McDermotts and the Boskets lingered in the courtroom. The families had never met. The daughter of Patricia McDermott hugged the mother of Odies Bosket.
Standing in the cold outside the Criminal Justice Center to answer media questions, both groups said they took comfort in knowing that a serial killer had been stopped.
"We're glad justice was brought to us," Angela Amarhanov said.
Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or firstname.lastname@example.org