The family of murder victims Raina Voll and her son Leo Klinger used the words "monster" and "evil" and "demon" to describe Shane Stevenson in letters they wrote to the judge who would sentence him.
"I don't know if even those describe you," Justice Russell P. Buscaglia said to Stevenson before handing down the maximum possible penalty, which amounts to 50 years to life in prison.
Stevenson, 31, strangled Voll and Leo in their Cheektowaga apartment on Sept. 15. He had pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for each crime, with the sentences to run consecutively.
Although Stevenson immediately admitted that he committed the crimes, he has never given any reason why he killed his girlfriend and her older son.
"He only confessed that he did this. He didn't elaborate why he did it," District Attorney John J. Flynn said Wednesday after the sentencing.
That question still haunts Voll's family. Leo was only 7 years old when he died, while Voll's other son, 2-year-old Stephen Klinger, was spared, also for reasons unknown. Voll's co-workers and neighbors also were stunned that anyone would harm the caring young mother and her bright, beautiful child.
"My daughter loved (Stevenson)," Anna Voll told the judge on Wednesday. "That was a bone of contention with us. I knew he wasn't a good person."
But Raina Voll loved her children even more, her mother said.
Talking about evidence from the night the two were killed, Anna Voll said, "She fought so hard, so hard for them – and then to know he turned on the child ... What kind of human can do that to a baby?"
Raina Voll, 30, and Leo were found strangled in their apartment at 1331 French Road after a man working outside heard Stephen crying in a nearby church parking lot, where he had been abandoned in his stroller. Voll's cellphone was with the boy. Prosecutors believe Stevenson left the toddler there several hours after the murders.
Anna Voll also said that, while "we try to teach children that there are no real monsters, we can't do that. There is a monster, over there," and she gestured toward Stevenson.
She made it clear that the family took no comfort from Stevenson's admissions of guilt.
"He has denied us two beautiful lives. He says he has taken 'responsibility' – what is responsibility?" she said. "I know he doesn't believe in God or a soul, but he will find out what true judgment is."
Defense attorney John Gilmore spoke only briefly, pointing out that Stevenson never denied committing the crimes and wanted to plead guilty from the beginning.
Stevenson had only a few words to say.
"I've done a horrible, ugly thing," he said in a low voice. "I think about Raina and Leo every day. Regardless of my sentence, I'll have to remember what I have done."
His admission didn't change the judge's view.
"You say you've done a 'horrible, ugly thing.' I don't know if 'horrible, ugly' reaches the impact of what you have done," Buscaglia said, adding he could not even think of words to cover the magnitude of the crimes.
The judge said he had received a letter from the victims' family telling him that, for sentencing, "they are leaving their hearts in my hands."
The courtroom was filled with friends and family members, may of whom were crying through some of the proceedings. But all went silent as Buscaglia reached his conclusion. He told Stevenson that, seeing no reason not to give him the maximum, his sentence would be 25 years to life in prison for each crime, with those terms to run consecutively.
Gasps of relief and spontaneous applause were followed by more tears and many hugs of comfort outside the courtroom before the relieved family members made their way out of the courthouse.
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