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Man gets 23 years in prison for strangling girlfriend

The actions of Thomas L. Murphy toward the woman he lived with were the worst type of domestic violence, an Erie County judge said Monday before Murphy’s sentencing.

Judge Thomas P. Franczyk said it was beyond his understanding how abusive partners can try to explain their behavior as “love,” and he said that when Murphy killed Jean Hartwig and then tried to cover up the crime it was calculated and intentional.

“You strangled her and then you tried to make it look like this happened as the result of a fire,” Franczyk said. “Then you lied for two days to police, saying you didn’t know anything about what happened.”

Murphy, 59, eventually pleaded guilty to first degree manslaughter and second degree arson for killing Hartwig in the home they shared.

On April 24, 2015, coworkers concerned about Hartwig’s welfare asked Cheektowaga police to check on her. When officers arrived at her flat in the Williamstowne Senior Apartments on William Street, they heard smoke detectors going off and forced their way in.

Murphy was inside and there was smoke coming from the bedroom. Hartwig’s body was found in the room where the fire had been set.

Investigators estimated she had been dead for one or two days before the police were called. Hartwig, who was 63, previously had sought and received an order of protection against Murphy, instructing him to “refrain from offensive behavior” but allowing him to have contact with her. Murphy also had been jailed briefly prior to the homicide for holding Hartwig against her will.

Members of the victim's family were in court for the sentencing and one of Hartwig’s grandchildren, Nicholas Griffo, spoke on their behalf.

He described a caring and fun-loving woman who was a model for how to lead a peaceful and fulfilling life. He said she taught him to be wealthy in the right ways and to enjoy the little things in life.

The young man described his grandmother’s slaying as an unfathomable tragedy for his family, and said that Murphy’s crime shattered his trust in people.

Murphy’s attorney, Emily Trott, said that her client’s “heinous act” also has alienated him from his own family, none of whom appeared to be in court.

Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush prosecuted the case.

In addition to the 23 years in prison, Franczyk ordered five years post-release supervision for Murphy, should he ever be freed.

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