UPDATED at 6:51 p.m. to expand a couple of quotes.
After a lengthy speech about the difficulty of finding a proper sentence for 48-year-old Scott F. Doll, convicted of killing Joseph Benaquist, Judge Robert C. Noonan imposed a 15 years to life sentence on the former corrections officer.
Noonan noted that Doll, who has no prior criminal record, is nearing 50 and that a 25-to-life sentence would probably mean Doll would die an old man in prison. He said he weighed that against the same sentence he might give to a much younger convicted murderer with a lengthy criminal record, and that man would be getting out of prison at age 50.
"I can't justify that in my mind," Noonan said. "Why would I permit a sentence on somebody who was a criminal before the act to look towards freedom in their later years and have somebody who was a 25-year corrections officer be denied parole because of the sentence I impose?"
Doll's attorney, Paul Cambria, said he thought the sentence was appropriate and praised Noonan's deliberative process throughout the trial.
"Judge Noonan displayed a tremendous amount of conscientious thought throughout the case and you can’t ask for more than that from a judge," Cambria said. "It was actually a pleasure trying a case here."
District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said he believes Doll should be spending the rest of his life in prison.
"We’re advocates," Friedman said. "We’ve always believe in our side of the case and the position we take, just as I’m sure the defense does, but the judge as he indicated has a very difficult decision in case like this. I respect that and understand it."
Joe Benaquist's girlfriend, Judy Scott, also made a brief statement after the court hearing: "I wish it was life without parole. That’s what Joe got. It wasn’t enough, but I trust the judge and how he made his decision and how he came to his conclusions -- we honor that, but I wish Joe got the same option."
Judy Scott, Joe's son Michael Benaquist and Joe's sister Joanna Benaquist all made statements prior to sentencing.
Joe's sister broke down crying while reading her statement and a friend finished for her.
"It was a senseless murder -- over a car," Joanna said. "Now I know what other people go through. I‘m not the same person any more. I have so much hate in my heart."
Each of the attorneys also had an opportunity to tell Noonan what they thought was an appropriate sentence.
Friedman asked for the maximum sentence available, 25 years to life.
"He has shown he is worse than those he guarded as a corrections officer, and for what? It was all for money," Friedman said. "He has shown no remorse, no acceptance of responsibility."
Paul Cambria said he still believes Scott Doll is innocent and didn't ask for a specific sentence, but acknowledged that Noonan was bound by the verdict to pronounce a sentence.
"I still have faith in system and faith in the appellate system and I believe the appellate division will right this wrong that has occurred here," Cambria said.
For his part, when it came his turn to speak, a bearded Scott Doll proclaimed his innocence, while lashing out at the newspaper for not printing, according to him, crucial evidence in the case, at the Sheriff's Office for allegedly changing reports, and at the District Attorney, turning to him at one point, and raising his voice, accusing him of manipulating the system to get a conviction.
“I’m sickened of the fact that one person could have control of the outcome of a case like this, who can control a newspaper, who can put out whatever he wants to, who can have the Sheriff’s all change their reports, that to me shouldn’t even be legal,” said Doll.
“I didn’t commit this murder," He added.
“I can’t believe it is all over somebody putting a feather in their cap, to make a name for yourself to beat Mr. Paul Cambria. Well, I hope the feather in your cap is worth my life because I didn’t do this. I hope the newspaper also reports the fact that you could have crucial evidence that I didn’t do this and that there was evidence of somebody else being there."
After court, Cambria reiterated his intention to appeal the conviction and seek a new trial.
"There was a ruling here basically breaking new ground when the judge found a so-called emergency exception to the right to counsel," Cambria said. "It has not ever been in the law previously. It seems to me this is the kind of case where the appellate division would give it a strong look and we're quite confident they're going to reverse it and we will (try the case) again."
For full audio coverage, visit WBTA's story.