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For Kalinowski, the max: 25 to life; Third trial in murder of husband concludes with haggard silence

Robin G. Kalinowski appears happy and youthful, smiling in front of a Buffalo Sabres logo she painted on the front lawn of her Riverside home, in a photo taken in the spring of 2007.

This was 1 1/2 years after her husband was shot to death in their bed, and seven months before she was charged in his killing.

Photos from the fall of 2008, during the first of her three trials on the charge of second-degree murder, show an engaged Kalinowski, her light-brown hair styled to frame her face, reacting emotionally to courtroom testimony.

But the woman in State Supreme Court on Thursday looked older and haggard, her hair stringy and unkempt. She appeared to limp as she walked into court, and she listened with a blank expression as she was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for killing Kevin M. Kalinowski.

Robin Kalinowski didn't beg for mercy. She didn't admit to her crime. And she didn't react when Justice Penny M. Wolfgang gave her the maximum sentence.

"She will stop at nothing. She is a destructive human being, and she needs to be stopped. So putting her in jail for the rest of her life is the least that we can hope for," Laurie A. Botwin, Kevin Kalinowski's sister, said after the sentencing.

People connected to the case presented two versions of Robin Kalinowski on Thursday.

At the sentencing, the prosecutor and the victim's brother called her a liar and manipulator. They said she has never expressed remorse and must finally be held accountable for killing the man who loved her.

"My brother cannot speak for himself. We are his voice," said his brother, Ken Kalinowski.

Outside court, Robin Kalinowski's cousin Gary Starr said he believes her contention that it was an accident when she put a rifle bullet through the back of her husband's head. He defended her as a good person who made mistakes in her life but would never hurt her husband.

"She's made a lot of errors -- I can't tell you she hasn't. She's made some foolish choices. That doesn't make her a murderer," Starr said.

Although Kalinowski, 46, could appeal the guilty verdict, Thursday's sentencing is for now the last word in her legal saga.

Her first trial on the second-degree murder charge, in 2008, ended in a hung jury. A second jury convicted her, in 2009, but an appeals court overturned the verdict last year.

Along the way, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy for trying to have her lover killed to keep him from testifying against her. Kalinowski received six to 12 years in prison for that conviction, a sentence she will serve at the same time as the murder sentence.

Kalinowski, who testified during her most recent trial, has insisted all along that she accidentally shot her 41-year-old husband in the head in the early hours of Nov. 10, 2005, in their Rosedale Street home. She contended that the rifle went off as she picked it up in the dark.

Prosecutors said it defies logic that Kevin Kalinowski would fall asleep in a darkened bedroom and leave a loaded rifle, with the safety off and a bullet in the chamber, on the bed.

In his comments to the judge, Ken Kalinowski described the day of the killing as the worst of his life. "Kevin Kalinowski is not just a murder victim. Kevin is a son, a father, a brother, a friend and so much more," his brother said.

Ken Kalinowski said his brother was a devoted parent who loved fishing, playing catch and driving four-wheelers with his two young sons, Kevin Jr. and Eric, who were 11 and 9, respectively, at the time of his death.

Ken Kalinowski said his brother put up with his wife's lying, stealing -- she was convicted of embezzling more than $20,000 from a former employer -- and selfishness, without complaint.

But he said he believes that Robin Kalinowski killed his brother after he reached a "breaking point," finally threatening to leave her and take the children after her affair.

In arguing for the maximum sentence, Ken Kalinowski said he and his family don't want to spend their old age worrying about her getting out of prison.

"It is simply not fair to give this depraved excuse of a human being this kind of undeserved power over the lives of innocent people," he said.

Prosecutor Thomas M. Finnerty, who has been involved in the case since her arrest, told the court that Kalinowski's repeated denials of guilt are "pathological."

"What she did to her husband is simple: She executed him," said Finnerty, who was assisted in the trial by Michael P. Felicetta.

In her testimony, Robin Kalinowski insisted that she loved her husband of 15 years and did not intentionally kill him.

But defense attorney John K. Jordan, who represented Kalinowski along with Joseph A. Agro, said he advised his client not to speak at sentencing, and he did not give any reasons why she deserved a lighter sentence.

But he reminded Wolfgang that any sentence would run concurrently with the one for conspiracy and, by law, could not be longer than the sentence she received following the verdict that was overturned.

Wolfgang said she was well aware of this requirement and, in issuing the maximum sentence, said she hopes this is Kalinowski's last trial on the second-degree murder charge.

"This court can find no mitigating circumstances, no justification, that would allow us to impose anything except the maximum sentence which is permitted by law," she said.

Kevin Kalinowski's mother and sister were in court for the sentencing, but his sons, now 17 and 15, were not.

Ken Kalinowski said their mother had "brainwashed" them, turning them against their father's family.

Robin Kalinowski's family has temporary custody of the boys, and Botwin said Kevin Kalinowski's family has recently started rebuilding their relationship with his sons.

Starr wanted to speak on his cousin's behalf during the sentencing but wasn't allowed to.

Outside court, he told reporters that Robin Kalinowski didn't have a motive, financial or otherwise, to kill her husband and that he objects to the image of his cousin presented in the media. "She's a very concerned, very involved person, with both Kevin and the two kids, all right? She's not this devil person," Starr said.

Kevin Kalinowski's sister watched from a short distance as reporters interviewed Starr.

Afterward, Botwin said she and her family were glad Robin Kalinowski received the stiffest possible sentence.

"What she has put my family through is just -- it's unimaginable," Botwin said, "and all of us are very relieved that she will be away for [possibly] the rest of her life."

email: swatson@buffnews.com