Angel R. Colon today was sentenced to a prison term of 25 years to life for sexually abusing and killing 7-year-old Samantha Zaldivar.
The prison term, while widely expected, failed to satisfy Samantha's aunt and grandmother, who spoke for the victim's family during a brief proceeding.
"We don't believe that what happened here is justice," said Lucely Zaldivar, the victim's aunt. "He killed her intentionally."
Colon, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder earlier this month, appeared calm and said nothing in his own defense. Wyoming County Judge Mark Dadd imposed sentence without commenting on the crime.
Samantha's grandmother, Maria Pidilla, speaking in Spanish, said Colon "is the only one responsible for this," and begged for justice.
"We are not able to get a hug, a smile, a kiss from her (Samantha) anymore," she said.
After the proceedings, Ms. Zaldivar said the sentence was inadequate.
"He deserves to be in prison forever," she said.
Colon, 25, originally was charged with first-degree murder, which carried a possible death sentence.
Wyoming County District Attorney Gerald L. Stout earlier this month accepted a plea to second-degree murder, which requires Colon to serve at least 25 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
That decision was criticized today by at least some family members as well as spectators who displayed signs on the court house lawn after today's proceeding.
Stout defended his decision again today, saying it would have been "very, very difficult" to obtain a first-degree murder conviction.
At the same time, he said, taking the case to trial possibly could have resulted in an acquittal.
Rachel Stra, 28, Samantha's mother and Colon's fiancee, has pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of hindering prosecution, and is scheduled to receive a conditional discharge at her sentencing on Oct. 1.
Stout, who also has been criticized for allowing that misdemeanor plea, said today that Ms. Stra "had no idea" that Colon killed her daughter.
Stout said the plea deal with Colon was based on tricky legal factors and was sure to anger some people in a case that has haunted Wyoming County. "I expected at the time there would be some people who didn't fully understand," the prosecutor said.
Colon killed sexually assaulted and killed Samantha on Feb. 25, 1997 in their Town of Hermitage house trailer. He then drove her body to a nearby field and buried her in a shallow grave. Colon had claimed that he last saw Samantha as she headed off to school on the morning of Feb. 26. Authorities spent three months in an exhaustive search before a farmer plowing his field found her body in May, about 1,000 yards from the trailer.
When he pleaded guilty earlier this month, Colon said he put a pillow over Samantha's face to stop her from crying, and did not intend to kill her. Ms. Zaldivar, the victim's aunt, ridiculed that claim in court today, calling Colon an "animal" who "killed her intentionally."
Asked by Dadd if he wanted to speak, Colon said: "No, your honor."