An Aug. 17 Metro article on the sentencing of John A. Keeler incorrectly attributed a Statement to a judge that the judge did not make. The judge, Robert I. Richter of D.C. Superior Court, did not say that, in deciding the sentence, he was considering the criminal justice system's need to encourage plea bargains and avoid long, costly trials. (Published 08/20/05)
John A. Keeler spared himself. But for his estranged girlfriend, there was no mercy on that night last February when the couple drove from Delaware to the District.
Keeler told authorities that he had planned to kill himself and Katherine Lavere. But in the end he took only the life of the 30-year-old Delaware woman he once hoped to marry, shooting her in the head.
Keeler, 36, tried to control the women who came into his life, Assistant U.S. Attorney June M. Jeffries said, calling him a "violent, sick person."
Yesterday, Keeler appeared in D.C. Superior Court to learn his fate: 22 years in prison. Jeffries had sought a 40-year term.
Keeler's anger toward women was not new, Jeffries and Lavere's family told Judge Robert I. Richter, and they said Lavere's murder was not impulsive but a carefully planned act, plotted before and during the drive to the District.
"He did what he set out to do, and that was kill Katherine Lavere," Jeffries told the judge.
Lavere's mother, Theresa Rash, said in court that the lives of those who loved her were forever changed. Rash said that she is divorcing and that her family now seems in constant conflict. "Our lives have changed so much," she said.
Behind her, in the first few rows of the courtroom, sat relatives and friends who had traveled from Delaware, where Keeler and Lavere lived. Many wore a T-shirt with Lavere's photo printed across the front.
Richter said Keeler had "all but turned himself in" after pulling into a Shell station in the 1000 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE about 8 p.m. Feb. 27. Keeler told a 911 operator that he did not know what was wrong with his "fiancee" and then told firefighters he believed that she had had a heart attack.
Arrested and charged with murder, Keeler pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May, before he could be indicted by a grand jury.
Yesterday he told the court and Lavere's family that he was sorry. "I've cried so much," he said. "I don't think I can cry anymore. She was the woman I hoped to marry some day."
The judge said that, in a criminal justice system that depends on people pleading guilty and avoiding long, costly trials, he could not ignore Keeler's cooperation, heinous as his crime may have been and dangerous as he may be.
"If I were sitting where you are sitting," Richter told Lavere's family, "it's unimaginable what I would want for Mr. Keeler." But under the District's voluntary sentencing guidelines, he said, the recommended sentence was 12 to 24 years and he could not justify departing from that.
The rows of relatives and friends gasped. As they left the courtroom a few minutes later, they said they were not ready to talk.