A Niagara Falls man forced to back away from his story that he killed his ex-wife accidentally last year while engaging in gunplay during sex was sentenced Tuesday to spend 12 years in state prison.
John A. Polley, 67, shot Julia Polley in the head while the two were in his bed together Jan. 11, 2009.
His ex-wife was 52.
More than 20 of her friends and family members were in Niagara County Court for the sentencing, including her older brother, Charles McGill, of Youngstown, who served as a family spokesman in the courtroom.
"For the past 15 months we've had to read in the papers and listen to John claim how his cowardly act . . . resulted in Julie's death from a day of drinking and gun play gone wrong," McGill said before the sentencing.
"We don't believe for one moment that [his] fabricated story contains a shred of truth. Anyone who knows Julie also knew her genuine fear and dislike of guns of any kind.
"Don't even try to get us to believe that she would try to play with a loaded firearm," he said. "Don't try to get us to accept that story of 'in a drunken stupor' you pulled the trigger by accident. We know your previous military experience and hunting experience. . . . You didn't just carelessly handle a firearm."
John Polley has often used alcohol as an excuse for his actions, but McGill said this time it wouldn't work.
"Too many times you managed to get away with things because your friends were willing to cover up," he said. "No one is willing to step up and help now."
John Polley told police after the shooting that he and his ex-wife had spent the day drinking at an American Legion post and veterans post in the Falls, then went to his 78th Street home together.
He said his .44-caliber pistol accidentally went off while the two were engaged in a sex act. He also told police the former couple was planning to get back together after six and a half years apart.
John Polley originally was charged with second-degree murder and could have faced 25 years in prison had he been convicted on that charge.
He was indicted on charges of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, an indictment his defense lawyer called contradictory.
Second-degree murder is intentional killing; second-degree manslaughter is defined as recklessly causing a death.
The first-degree manslaughter plea bargain forced Polley to admit while in court Dec. 23 that he intentionally killed his former wife.
His ex-wife's family members, both inside the courtroom and after sentencing, disputed the claim that the Polleys were close to a complete reconciliation, although the family did say the former couple occasionally spent time together.
In court, McGill spoke of a history of domestic violence that his sister never reported to police.
"For some unknown reason," he told John Polley, "she always let you back into her life."
Outside court, McGill and his brother Rod, of Lewiston, told The Buffalo News they were unhappy with the 12-year sentence, but agreed that the outcome of a trial would have been uncertain.
Assistant District Attorney Timothy Lundquist said the quality of evidence in a case like this makes it difficult.
"No one is ever happy," the prosecutor said, "but there are limitations of proof and we have to dispense it the best we can based on the circumstances."
John Polley did not speak in court when asked by County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza for a comment, but his attorney, Joseph M. LaTona, did.
LaTona said during the year he has worked with Polley, his client has expressed deep regrets and called Julia Polley a "wonderful, admirable woman."
In addition to the 12-year state prison term, Sperrazza also sentenced Polly to five years of post-release supervision.
The judge thanked Julia Polley's family for being so courteous in court and noted after she pronounced her sentence, "No matter what I do, it will not ease your pain."
"No amount of time is going to be enough to pay for what you have done," Charles McGill told his former brother-in-law before sentencing. "No, your ultimate punishment has yet to be determined. Your final fate is in the hands of God. May he have mercy on your soul."