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Troopers' wives aim to see justice given to Phillips Killer's sentencing is scheduled today

Tracy R. Baker and Teri E. Longobardo plan to travel together to Mayville today to watch the man who shot their state trooper husbands -- Ralph "Bucky" Phillips -- be sent to prison for the rest of his life.

Baker said she and Longobardo want to be there for their husbands. Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo lost his life, and Trooper Donald H. Baker Jr. was critically wounded when Phillips shot them Aug. 31 in a wooded area of Chautauqua County.

"It's going to be hard on both of us. Being there with [Phillips] is going to be one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," Baker told The Buffalo News in a weekend interview.

"I'm going there to show my support for my husband, and Teri will be there for Joe. But we'll also be there for every state trooper who puts his life on the line every single day . . . and for every other officer who does it."

In her first interview since her husband was slain, Teri Longobardo said her 15-month-old son, Louis, gives her the strength to keep moving forward.

"There are days when I wouldn't get out of bed if it wasn't for him," Longobardo said of her son. "He needs me. I definitely have my son to thank for getting me through these days."

Longobardo, 28, lives in Middle Grove, a hamlet in Saratoga County. She is an elementary school teacher who received her education at Buffalo State College. She has several cousins in the Buffalo area.

Like Tracy Baker, Longobardo has agonized over the prospect of being in the same courtroom with the man who killed her husband.

"Part of me doesn't want to go [to the sentencing]. Part of me doesn't want to give [Phillips] the satisfaction of seeing me sitting there," she said. "But I feel like I have to do this, for myself and my family.

"I've heard that [Phillips] claims it's hard for him not to see his family. Well, he took my family away from me."

Longobardo and Baker have spent many hours together and have become very close since the shootings. They both said they are thankful to people throughout Western New York who have sent them cards and letters, offering support and comfort.

Baker said she probably would not speak during today's sentencing.

Longobardo might. She will wait to see how she feels when she gets to court.

If she does address the court, she might tell Phillips and the sentencing judge about her little son, a boy who will never have the pleasure of really getting to know his father.

"He's too young to know what happened, but he knows who his father is," Longobardo said. "We have Joe's picture on the refrigerator, and when Louis sees it, he says, 'Da-Da.' "

"There's a picture of Joe outside his bedroom, too. Most nights, when I put him to bed, Louis blows his dad a kiss."

Baker said she wishes Phillips could receive the death penalty for the Longobardo slaying, but she is satisfied with a plea deal that is expected to result in life imprisonment with no chance at parole. New York's death penalty has been inactive since a 2004 ruling in the State Court of Appeals.

"I think there should be a death penalty for certain circumstances, including this one," Baker said. "[Phillips] is a coldblooded murderer who killed one trooper and tried to kill two others. He ambushed and tried to kill my husband. I've seen him show no remorse for taking human life. He acts like it's a big joke."

A morning court appearance in Mayville, where he will be sentenced by State Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. for murdering Longobardo and shooting Baker, will be the first of three sentencings for Phillips.

This afternoon, he will appear before Kloch again -- this time in Buffalo -- to be sentenced for escaping from Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden last April.

Wednesday, Phillips will be sentenced in Elmira for the attempted murder of a third trooper, Sean Brown. Soon after that, he will be transferred to a state prison, where he is expected to be held under the tightest security for the rest of his life.

Phillips, 44, a career criminal who grew up in rural Chautauqua County, touched off a massive police search when he chopped his way to freedom through a kitchen ceiling in the Alden facility April 2.

He was arrested near the New York-Pennsylvania border Sept. 8, a day after the FBI added his name to its Ten Most Wanted list.

Tracy Baker said Phillips' illegal conduct while on the run has left painful marks on her family, the Longobardo family and the family of Sean Brown, the trooper who was shot near Elmira in June.

Brown, 30, who was shot in the stomach from close range, made a full recovery and is back to work. Baker said her husband, who was in a medically induced coma for three weeks after being shot in the back, has returned to an Albany-area hospital twice in recent weeks because of "nutritional issues." She took him home again Monday before preparing for the trip to Mayville with Longobardo.

Donald Baker, 38, is determined to continue his recovery and return to full duty sometime before the end of 2007, his wife said.

"I have confidence that Don will make it back and finish out a long career with the State Police," Baker said. "But every morning, I wake up sick to my stomach, knowing that he still isn't out of the woods and has a long recovery ahead of him."

She said her friend Teri Longobardo has it much worse.

"Teri will never see Joe again, and she's got a 15-month-old son who will never see his father again," Baker said. "[Phillips] has caused more pain than you can possibly imagine . . . It's so sad. It's horrific."

Baker said she is somewhat apprehensive -- but not really worried -- about admirers of Phillips who have shown up at other court appearances. Baker said people wearing T-shirts or belts supporting Phillips cannot hurt her any more than she has already been hurt.

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report.

-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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