Martin J. Turkiewicz didn't flinch when he was sentenced Thursday to 6 months in jail for attacking his wife with a hammer last September in an attempted mercy killing. But when he heard about the order of protection to keep him away from the woman he calls the love of his life, he sadly asked, "I still can't see her?"
That answer will be up to Garden Gate Health Care Facility, where the attack took place and where Rita Turkiewicz, 86, remains under care and recovering from her injuries. As ordered by the court, the couple could have supervised visits as long as family members and others were present, but the nursing home also would have to approve it. So far it has not.
It was employees of Garden Gate who first discovered the horrifying assault, after Turkiewicz, 88, ended a visit with his wife by telling staff members that he had hit her in the head with a hammer. He thought he had killed the ailing woman, and that was also how the bloody scene looked to first responders, according to Judge Kenneth F. Case.
But Rita Turkiewicz survived after sustaining two skull fractures. Within days, family members said, she let them know she had forgiven her husband. Turkiewicz, who originally was charged with attempted murder in the second degree, pleaded guilty in November to second-degree assault.
Assistant District Attorney Danielle D'Abate told the judge that the prosecution felt that the viciousness of the attack merited some jail time, but she did not request a specific sentence.
The couple's adult children and grandchildren also were in court for the sentencing Thursday. A daughter, Diana Cline, addressed the judge to ask for probation for her father.
"Most everybody knew that Mom had health issues – bad knees, loss of her sight from macular degeneration, and dementia," she said.
What people didn't know, Cline said, was that her mother also suffered from severe depression, and was "giving up" and saying she wanted to die. While the family was horrified by the attack, she said, they understand her father's motive.
"Our father is a man who made a horrible mistake," Cline said as she asked the judge to consider a sentence of probation. "Please allow my mother and father to see each other again, so he can apologize. Let them hold hands and hug and tell each other they need and love each other."
Turkiewicz also told the judge that he deeply regretted the pain and suffering he caused "his dear wife and our family."
The Cheektowaga resident said he knew he was wrong to try to end his wife's pain and suffering. "Only God has that right," he said.
He also said he prayed daily to be able hear her voice again.
"I need to apologize," he said. "And I believe she needs to hear the apology from me. I am pleading with the court and Garden Gate Manor to please allow me to tell my wife how sorry I am and how much I love her."
The judge listened to Cline and her father, and to a lengthy listing of mitigating circumstances offered by defense attorney Rodney O. Personius – including Turkiewicz's motive, his remorse, his wife's recovery and forgiveness, his need to care for his blind son and his lifelong devotion to his wife.
"I don't think I could have a heavier heart," Case said to Turkiewicz. "You have an amazing love story, and a tragic love story. I do believe this assault was done, in your mind, without malicious intent, and with love."
But, the judge continued, the law does not allow people to attack each other for any reason. If he did not impose some jail time, he said, it "would be to somehow condone the conduct."
"Your intent was to kill her and you were prepared to spend the rest of your life in prison for her," Case said, noting that, had Turkiewicz been successful, he would have been looking at a minimum sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
"We can't have people running around bludgeoning their wives with hammers because they think they should die," Case said.
In addition to the six months in jail, the judge ordered that Turkiewicz be on probation for five years. He also denied a defense request that Turkiewicz be allowed to remain free until Monday to be with his family.
Case, however, said he would be willing to hear an application for relief from the order of protection in the future, should circumstances warrant it.