Helyna Rivera's four young children "became orphans in a horrible flash" last August when their father fatally shot their mother four times in his last violent act against her, their grandmother said Wednesday in Erie County Court.
"He killed her spirit long before her physical death," Alexandrine Hess said of Uda Hidalgo's escalating domestic violence against Rivera.
For ending her life, Hidalgo was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the maximum punishment for his first-degree manslaughter conviction.
Rivera, 25, was trying to break free of his grip -- gaining promotions at work and planning to move to another community -- which only fueled Hidalgo's fear he was losing control of her, Hess said during his sentencing.
Rivera had gone to Hidalgo's home on Virginia Street to pick up their children after her workday when a confrontation occurred outside the residence.
Hidalgo shot her three times in the back and then fired a fourth shot into her head, in front of two of the children.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio quoted from a letter Rivera's and Hidalgo's 7-year-old daughter, a second-grader, sent to court.
"You can see he wasn't a good father, especially to my mommy," the girl wrote, according to the judge.
Hidalgo told the judge that he did not believe the girl wrote that letter.
"Helyna's life changed when she met you, Mr. Hidalgo," DiTullio said. "You're a violent man. You're a coward.
"You showed no mercy," the judge said. "You'll get no mercy from this court. You won't see the light of day for a long time, Mr. Hidalgo."
Rivera's extended family now cares for her three daughters and one son -- ages 7, 6, 4 and 2 -- in Fort Erie, Ont.
Rivera worked as an auditor at Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel in Niagara Falls. Hidalgo did not work, choosing to stay home to watch the children.
He chose to be a stay-at-home dad, professing concern for the children's safety, Hess said.
Meanwhile, Rivera took the 6 a.m. bus to Niagara Falls each workday and returned to Buffalo 12 hours later, earning money to provide for the family, Hess said. Even so, Hidalgo took control of the family's finances, spending money on expensive gold chains for himself and wearing stylish clothes, Hess said.
As Rivera's career flourished, he could see "she was moving ahead without him," Hess said. "He saw he was losing control."
After the sentencing, Linda John, Rivera's mother, said the family can look for closure now.
She remembered her daughter as a "beautiful, graceful dancer."
"She wanted out. She was going for her freedom," John said.
Defense attorney Joseph J. Terranova said Hidalgo is "absolutely crushed to be in this position today."
Hidalgo feared Rivera would take the children and leave the area, Terranova said.
"My client couldn't control the rage he felt," Terranova said.
The son of alcoholics, Hidalgo was the target of domestic violence himself as a child, Terranova said.
"All he knew his whole life was domestic violence," he said.
Hidalgo apologized in court to Rivera's family, many of whom watched the sentencing.
"I'm sorry for all the pain I caused," he said. "I wish I could take everything back. I apologize to everybody here. I'm sorry."
DiTullio acknowledged the domestic violence he suffered as a child. But that did not excuse him for the violence he directed at Rivera, she said.