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Attack on family gets man 23 years; Two people stabbed in '30 minutes of hell'

Shawn M. Zimmerman, who on Aug. 4 put a Porter family through what one of them called "30 minutes of hell," was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison.

Zimmerman, 31, of West Avenue, Lockport, apologized to the Dubetsky family for breaking into their Porter home, holding them hostage at knifepoint and stabbing two of them.

"I'm glad he got his 23 years. You have to pay for what you did," Therese Dubetsky said after the sentencing. Moments earlier, she told Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza that Zimmerman had put her family through "30 minutes of hell."

She was slashed on the thumb as her husband, Barry Dubetsky, tried to disarm Zimmerman, who had a butcher knife.

Barry Dubetsky was stabbed in the chest and abdomen and was in intensive care for four days, District Attorney Michael J. Violante said.

"Shawn Zimmerman has spent half his life in state prison," Violante said. "This is an extremely antisocial man. This is a man whom we're lucky we're not sentencing for a homicide."

The plea deal Zimmerman accepted Feb. 10, after two false starts, included a 25-year cap on sentencing for first-degree assault and second-degree kidnapping. He could have gotten as much as 40 years.

If he had been convicted at trial, the prosecution could have asked for a life sentence, because Zimmerman would have been classified as a persistent felon.

Sperrazza offered no explanation of why she didn't sentence Zimmerman to 25 years.

"He still got away with murder," fumed Michael Zannella, Therese Dubetsky's father. "He should have gotten the full 25."

The plea package also included dismissal of a separate indictment that charged Zimmerman with four felony sales of crack cocaine and an agreement not to prosecute other drug deals prosecutors knew of.

Defense attorney Dominic Saraceno pointed to Zimmerman's history of drug abuse in arguing for a sentence of less than 25 years. He said Zimmerman's stepfather smoked crack with him and set the defendant on the course of drug addiction.

"If we were raised the way he was raised, we'd probably all be behind bars," Saraceno told reporters.

The plea deal was worked out by Assistant Public Defender Robert Viola, who quit the case two weeks ago when Zimmerman submitted his own motion asking to cancel his pleas. Zimmerman asserted that a psychiatric report from Dr. Brian S. Joseph would have given him a defense angle to play at trial -- that of being on drugs. Sperrazza noted at the time that "95 percent" of the people who plead guilty to burglary or robbery were on drugs at the time of the crime.

Zimmerman claimed Viola didn't show him the doctor's report before he pleaded guilty. Viola submitted a sworn affidavit Wednesday that Zimmerman saw the report and that he discussed it with him.

Sperrazza, reading it from the bench, said Viola thought it "did not provide proof sufficient to create reasonable doubt under the law, but it was a good sentencing tool."

Saraceno, a county conflict defender chosen to replace Viola, said Zimmerman continued to dispute Viola's account, but Sperrazza ruled he couldn't take back his guilty pleas.

Saraceno told Sperrazza, "Mr. Zimmerman that night was high on acid and was hallucinating."

Zimmerman thought four men were chasing him last summer when he knocked on the door of the Dubetsky home at 6 a.m. and didn't intend to commit a crime, his attorney claimed.

When Sperrazza asked why he brought a knife, Saraceno said Zimmerman used one of the Dubetskys' knives. But Sperrazza said the family told state police they didn't recognize the knife. "I did not have that knife in my possession," Zimmerman said in court. "I was wearing a pair of shorts. That knife was 12 inches long. Where was I going to put it, in my sock?"

Therese Dubetsky said Zimmerman repeatedly plunged the knife into a wall as he held the family hostage, including her husband and their teenage twin daughters, in the bathtub. "He wanted to keep us under control," she said.

Saraceno said Zimmerman's statements about the incident show he wasn't there to commit a crime.

"He said they offered him money to leave. He said, 'I'm not here for that.' They offered him car keys. He said, 'I'm not here for that.' "

Violante said research by Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann showed Zimmerman had committed two other robberies by using the same tactic of knocking on a door and saying he needed help.

In her statement in court, Therese Dubetsky quoted Zimmerman as saying, "You think I won't stab you? Because I will."

"Thank God for the police who took over the situation and took him into custody with the knife still in his hand," Dubetsky said. Violante told the judge, "You have sentenced in your 10 years on the bench several people we believe are evil. That's Shawn Zimmerman."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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