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FALLS WIFE KILLER DRAWS 20-YEAR PRISON SENTENCE

A Niagara Falls man was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday for strangling his wife and setting the family home on fire June 17.

One of Joseph K. O'Connor's three children, 12-year-old Arielle, hugged him before he was led from the courtroom.

And unless a Family Court judge alters an order of protection, that was the last contact O'Connor will have with any of his children for two decades.

Holly E. Sloma, second assistant district attorney, who was tearful, told Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza that Arielle -- who wasn't allowed to speak at the sentencing -- "wanted me to tell her father she will always love him."

"There may be a time when it's healthy for them to have contact with their father. I don't know. I'm not a child psychologist," Sperrazza said. The children, ages 14, 12 and 6, are living with O'Connor's sister in Cheektowaga.

O'Connor, 40, of Weston Avenue, killed his wife, Michelle, 32, on June 17 in their home. Police responding to a call of domestic violence found her body in the dining room with a rope around her neck. He then turned on the gas stove and set papers on fire throughout the house. The couple's three children were at school at the time.

O'Connor, who was under treatment for a for a bipolar disorder, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter in exchange for the fixed 20-year prison term. Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer, who was planning to try an insanity defense at a trial, said it was the best deal he could make.

O'Connor's sister-in-law, Kimberly Henretta, declared, "Joe, you are a monster. You are sick, but not in the way you've been trying to tell the courts."

As O'Connor stared straight ahead, she accused him of sexually abusing his children. His record includes a misdemeanor sexual-abuse arrest, which resulted in a guilty plea to endangering the welfare of a child.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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