Monday, June 21, 2010

Husband of postdoc student sentenced to 27 to life for murder, arson

A New Zealand native who stabbed his wife in a state park and set fire to her body to cover up evidence will serve 27 to life in the New York state prison system. Blazej Kot, a Cornell University graduate student and New Zealand native, was sentenced by Tompkins County Judge John Rowley June 16 on charges of 2nd degree murder, 3rd degree arson, and tampering with evidence. Kot was convicted by a jury on April 20 on these charges after a three and a half week trial. The defense tried, but failed to prove that Kot was under extreme emotional distress.

His victim was Dr. Caroline Coffey, a postdoctoral student at the Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine. Her father, Michael Coffey, carried her ashes into the courtroom for the sentencing, urging her killer to look at them."Today, it's about Caroline. In this green casket lies her remains. We thought it would be appropriate for this convicted murderer to see what is left of his beautiful wife. That's all there is."

"My wife and I have cried every day since she was murdered, and who knows if that will ever end," he said. Kot — their son-in-law — murdered Caroline 54 weeks ago, and they carried the "deeply horrifying details" about him during his trial, which lasted three weeks and two days, he recalled. No one should have to undergo such an ordeal, he stressed.

"The trial was an additional tragedy, all by itself," Michael said, adding that [defense attorney Joe] Joch and defense psychiatrist Dr. Rory Houghtalen -- whom he called a "hired-gun psychiatrist" -- had created an imaginary scenario to support Kot's defense. They had accepted Kot as their own son, and he never showed any hint of an extreme emotional disturbance, he said.

Kot has an "unexplained high opinion of his own abilities," felt he was smarter than Caroline, disliked his advisers, and looked down on his fellow students, Michael said. On the trial's second day, he and his wife, Patricia, met with Kot's parents, who told them they had learned on the Internet that Kot had admitted to killing Caroline. This is more evidence of Kot's disrespect and apathy toward others, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew McElwee said that "In talking with some of her advisers, there appeared to be no ceiling on the contributions she may have made to the fields of science, research and biology," McElwee said. "We don't know what sort of a loss that will be to humanity, entirely, and we'll never know." McElwee also believed that Kot should reimburse Tompkins County for the cost of the trial, perhaps through patents he holds.

McElwell said that because of the brutality of the crime, the maximum sentence of 25 to life for 2nd degree murder was appropriate. "We're asking for the maximum sentence today. If a sentence of a maximum nature gives at least one person that's about to commit a crime like this pause, then that sentence is justified."

Judge John Rowley said that "The facts are just so disturbing, the images so powerful, the reality so harsh. I'm, of course, affected like everyone else is. I'm not to be overruled by that. The brutality of the death itself and the innocence of Dr. Coffey are just hard to accept."

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