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The media surrounds District Attorney Joe Fazzary, right, for comments after the sentencing.
Trappler gets 25 years to life
Courtroom packed, emotions evident as statements read
WATKINS GLEN, July 26 -- Alice Trappler, the Addison woman convicted on May 8th of 2nd Degree Murder, Burglary and Conspiracy in connection with the April 2012 shotgun slaying of Daniel Bennett in his Town of Dix home, was sentenced Thursday morning in Schuyler County Court to 25 years to life in prison.
County Judge Dennis Morris pronounced sentence before a courtroom packed with spectators after an emotional plea by Bennett's sister, Alecia; a statement by District Attorney Joe Fazzary in which he likened Trappler to "a monster," a response by defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir asking for a more lenient sentence; and a brief statement by Trappler herself, in which she said she agreed "this was a tragedy on many levels," and that her "wrongful conviction is a furtherance of that tragedy."
Trappler was found guilty by a jury on five different counts, including 2nd Degree Murder (intentional and felony), 1st and 2nd Degree Burglary, and Conspiracy 2nd Degree. Judge Morris sentenced her to the maximum on each crime -- 25-years-to-life on each of the murder and burglary counts and 8 1/3 to 25 years on the conspiracy -- with the time to be served concurrently.
The sentencing came after Morris on Wednesday rejected a defense motion to set aside the verdicts. That decision was announced Thursday.
Trappler -- who the prosecution said orchestrated the Bennett murder, even though not present during it -- is expected to appeal, with papers to be filed within 30 days.
Bennett was allegedly killed by Trappler's ex-husband, Thomas Wesley Borden, who subsequently died by jumping in front of a moving train while being chased by police in Jenkintown, Pa., north of Philadelphia. The prosecution maintained that Trappler conspired with Borden to kill Bennett as the culmination of a custody battle over Trappler's infant daughter Lily, fathered by Bennett.
Also charged in the case was Borden's stepbrother, Nathan Hand, who pleaded guilty last year to a reduced manslaughter charge in return for his testimony against Trappler at her trial. He was sentenced to 19 years in jail.
Trappler was led into Schuyler County Court Thursday wearing a bright orange jumpsuit with "Chemung County Jail" lettered on the back, and shackled at both the hands and feet. She has been incarcerated for more than a year in the Elmira jail because Schuyler County has no such accommodations for female inmates.
She sat in the same seat as she had at trial, at the defense table to the left of her attorney, Susan BetzJitomir. Another table to the right was occupied by District Attorney Joe Fazzary -- who opened the proceedings by introducing Daniel Bennett's sister, Alecia, to read a statement.
In it, Alecia described Trappler as "a heartless, evil, emotionally void, hateful individual" as well as "a murderer, a coward who stole not only the life of Dan but the peace, stability, sanity and ability to sleep at night from an entire family and community."
Her emotions were evident as she read the statement into a microphone, with two friends and her fiance standing beside and behind her, patting her back and offering comfort. She sobbed several times during her delivery. She said later she had worked on the statement for weeks, completing it Wednesday, and that -- nearly an hour after reading it -- "I'm still shaking."
For the complete statement, click here.
Fazzary followed with a statement of his own, starting out with quotes he said had been received from Trappler friends and family in a pre-sentencing process -- statements such as:
"Alice is a hardworking citizen." "Alice is a loving, devoted mother." "Alice is kind and compassionate." "We even watched her raise a family of baby squirrels." "Alice has led a productive life." "Alice is a good person." "Alice is very kind, caring and compassionate." "Alice is a sweet thing."
"Sweet things," said Fazzary, "don’t kill people or have them killed. Kind, caring and compassionate people do not conspire with others to kill another human being. A good person and devoted mother doesn’t have her baby’s father executed.
"No, Alice is not kind and compassionate. She is not a sweet thing. She is a murderer...
"Dan Bennett is dead, his brain blown across the living room of his father's house, left so his father could find him. He is dead because this defendant had him murdered. He is dead because this defendant could not stand the thought of him being any part of their baby's life. He is dead because the defendant is cruel and vicious, cold, calculating and manipulative. Dan is dead because he wanted to see his little baby. Thirty years old and his life snuffed out by Alice Trappler for no reason. Senseless!
"During trial, she tried to portray Dan as a monster. There was no evidence of that. Who is the real monster? By her own actions, the defendant ruined the lives of so many... Unlike the fairy tales, Your Honor, monsters don't always live under the bed.
"It matters not that Ms. Trappler did not pull the trigger. Under our law, she is equally as guilty. Just because she didn't get her hands dirty does not mean this court should show her mercy.
"Mercy should be cast upon those who are remorseful for their actions. Mercy is for those who are truly kind and compassionate and made a mistake. Alice Trappler is not remorseful. Alice Trappler is not kind and compassionate. This was no mistake. It was a cold, calculated, deliberate act of a violent and desperate woman. She is not deserving of mercy from this court."
He recommended the maximum sentence on all counts, with the ones for murder and burglary to run concurrently and the one for conspiracy to be added on "inasmuch as the conspiracy is a separate and distinct crime."
The defense attorney, BetzJitomir, spoke next, asking the court to consider the mimimum sentence, which would be 15 years to life, and comparing Trappler's situation to that of Borden's stepbrother, Hand, who drew a 19-year sentence for his manslaughter plea. Hand was present at the Bennett murder, while Trappler was not.
"There is no doubt the killing was a terrible, terrible crime," she said, "but the issue is whether Alice was part of that. She understands that she is legally guilty," but that even the pre-sentence investigation report noted that Trappler's "ongoing claims of innocence" appeared to be "sincere."
"Remorse," BetzJitomir said, "is for the factually guilty, but wrong for a person wrongfully found guilty."
She told the judge that Trappler had been a productive member of society, and that even in jail she was productive, "tutoring GED classes."
Since Nathan Hand, "who could have taken steps to stop the crime, negotiated a sentence of 19 years," she argued, "Alice Trappler should get no more than him and considerably less."
Trappler herself then briefly addressed the court. BetzJitomir said later that she wasn't sure her client would speak, but that Trappler had decided at the last moment to do so.
"Your honor," Trappler said, "I agree that this was a tragedy on many levels, and I'm remorseful overall."
Turning to her right, looking back toward Bennett family and friends, she said she was "sorry you lost a brother and son," but then added, turning back toward the judge: "My wrongful conviction is a furtherance of that tragedy. I'm sorry for the whole thing."
Judge Morris then moved to the sentencing, saying that while Trappler had no previous criminal history, "three things" convinced him that leniency was not an option. There was, he said, "the execution style" method of murder "in an especially brutal manner in (the victim's) own house. We have a right to be safe in our own homes."
The murder, he added, was "senseless, a reason to keep Daniel Bennett away from his baby." Trappler instituted "her own personal sense of justice."
Finally, he said, the decision to kill "was not rash ... There was time to reconsider it."
He said he had "reviewed case law" regarding the conspiracy count, and decided it was not separate from the other crimes and thus did not merit a consecutive term.
He then sentenced Trappler, with all of the terms of incarceration running concurrently.
When he was done, there was applause from the section of the courtroom where the Bennett family and friends were seated.
Fazzary, speaking to the media afterward, said he was "pleased. (Trappler) deserved the maximum," which -- aside from the judge's decision to run the conspiracy sentence concurrently -- she received.
"She orchestrated the entire (murder)," said the DA. "She's the one who could have prevented it. She was a masterful manipulator."
Now, he said, she has 30 days to file for an appeal, and then nine months to prepare it. "But I don't see any errors in trial that would result in a reversal."
The Bennett family, he added, "is very pleased with the sentence. It's been a long road for them -- very traumatic."
Even so, he said, "this is not a joyous day, not a celebration." Too many lives have been ruined -- among the Bennett, Trappler and Borden families and their friends.
As for Trappler's insistence that she isn't guilty, Fazzary said she "can profess her innocence to the day she dies. But the evidence showed she was guilty."
BetzJitomir said that while the trial and sentencing are completed, "this isn't over until all of the process is over." Accordingly, "we have a very good case for appeal. There are a lot of meritorious issues" -- among them an issue regarding the jury.
"They didn't understand the instructions," she said. "They call it jury misconduct, not that they did anything wrong." She said that argument was in the brief submitted to the court two weeks ago.
"We were hopeful the judge would have agreed," but he didn't, said BetzJitomir: "He's the judge and he can do that."
Trappler "expected this," BetzJitomir said of the maximum sentence. "She understands she's legally guilty, and was expecting the worst while hoping for the best."
After sentencing, Trappler was led downstairs and through a hallway -- past the media -- to the Sheriff's Department. Later, she was led outside to a waiting van, and secured inside. The van pulled away, turned left on 10th Street and then right on Decatur, heading south toward Elmira and the Chemung County Jail.
From there Alice Trappler would be processed into the state prison system.
Photos in text:
From top: Alice Trappler after sentencing; Alecia Bennett, who read a statement in court; DA Joe Fazzary; Trappler being led from the Sheriff's Office to a waiting van; defense attorney Susan BetzJitomir.
Alice Trappler enters the van for transport back to the Chemung County Jail.
The Story from Day 1 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 2 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 3 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 4 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 5 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 6 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 7 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 8 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 9 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 10 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 11 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 12 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 13 may be found by clicking here.
The Story from Day 14 may be found by clicking here.
(All court stories by Charlie Haeffner)
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