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Killer in Internet love triangle sentenced to 20 years, told he can't withdraw plea

Thomas Montgomery, a former church deacon, was ordered Tuesday to serve a 20-year prison term for the "totally senseless killing" of a co-worker in an Internet love triangle.

State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang rejected Montgomery's bid, made last month, to withdraw his first-degree manslaughter plea. Montgomery had sought, instead, to stand trial on second-degree murder charges in the fatal shooting of Brian M. Barrett, 22.

But Wolfgang stressed that, in pleading guilty Aug. 20 to the reduced charge, Montgomery admitted his guilt in the Sept. 15, 2006, killing that resulted from an online "love triangle between three people who did not even know each other."

Montgomery, a 48-year-old divorced father of two teen-age daughters, shot Barrett three times with a .30-caliber rifle as Barrett was getting out of his pickup truck at Dynabrade Corp., 8889 Sheridan Drive, Clarence, where both men worked.

For about 18 months prior to the shooting, both men had been romantically e-mailing Mary Sheiler, a 50-year-old West Virginia woman who had been posing as an 18-year-old using her daughter's e-mail and Web page, an Erie County Sheriff's Office investigation revealed.

Barrett's family is now suing Montgomery, Sheiler and Dynabrade over wrongful death.

During a protracted hearing prior to Tuesday's sentencing, attorney John R. Nuchereno argued that Montgomery has long suffered from untreated depression and didn't fully comprehend his guilty plea.

Nuchereno stressed that after the Aug. 20 plea, Montgomery was immediately placed in the Erie County Holding Center's special observation ward. He said jailers feared Montgomery, who tried to commit suicide earlier by slashing his wrist in the jail, was still suicidal.

Deputy District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III denounced Montgomery as probably the "most manipulative" defendant he has ever prosecuted. He stressed that Montgomery decided to kill Barrett only after Sheiler, whom he never met, dropped him as her Internet "lover."

Sedita told the judge that John J. Molloy, the attorney Wolfgang had previously appointed to represent Montgomery, spent three days at the jail with him discussing the benefits of the manslaughter plea deal and that Molloy was prepared to dispute under oath all of Montgomery's complaints.

During the sentencing, Daniel Barrett, the victim's father, read the judge a letter describing how his slain son had been a student leader at Niagara County Community College and urging her to impose the maximum possible prison term on Montgomery.

"I don't wish that evil should ever walk the streets again" and traumatize another family, the father said.

Afterward, he said that while his family had hoped for a longer prison term, "justice was done, but nothing's going to bring [my son] back."

Nuchereno said the sentencing will be appealed. He said that had the case gone to trial, it would have been the nation's first defense involving claims of diminished mental capacity cause by the Internet, "where fantasy and reality are blurred."

District Attorney Frank J. Clark said his office had hoped the judge would impose the maximum-allowable 25-year prison term, but he felt "substantial justice has been accomplished."


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