MILWAUKEE (AP) — An Iraq War veteran who ambushed and killed his police officer wife last Christmas Eve was sentenced Friday to life in prison for gunning down the woman he called his "one love," and the earliest he could be eligible for parole is in 35 years.
Benjamin G. Sebena, 30, pleaded guilty in June to first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Jennifer Sebena. Ben Sebena has not said exactly why he killed his wife. His attorney noted that he was diagnosed with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and sometimes has trouble distinguishing between what is real and what's not.
The charge carried a mandatory life sentence, although Judge David Borowski had the option of allowing for the possibility for parole after at least 20 years. Wisconsin does not have the death penalty.
"What you did was the worst of the worst," Borowski told Ben Sebena before handing down the sentence. "You took from this earth the person who probably loved you more than anyone, even more than your parents. You've shaken an entire community and destroyed two families."
Sebena served two tours in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. He was honorably discharged in 2005 after suffering severe arm and leg injuries in a mortar attack.
After praising Sebena for his distinguished service, the judge added that thousands of other war veterans don't come home and kill their spouses.
Jennifer Sebena, a 30-year-old Wauwatosa police officer, was conducting a pre-dawn patrol alone on Christmas Eve when her husband shot her twice in the back of the head and three times in the face.
Prosecutor Mark Williams handed five autopsy photographs to the judge, who declared them "gruesome."
The court was standing room only, with about half of the 80 seats occupied by Wauwatosa police officers. Several dabbed their eyes or rested their foreheads in their hands as Williams described how the gunfire shot off portions of Jennifer Sebena's face.
Ben Sebena, as he has in every court appearance, was brought into court in a wheelchair and wearing a blue padded suicide vest. His voice cracked as he apologized to his mother-in-law and sister-in-law. He told the judge that he endures his own punishment each day for what he did to "the one love of my life."
"I ask for forgiveness and I hope to God he gives it to me one day," he said.
Sebena had initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. But he changed his plea after two doctors testified that despite his mental health issues, he wasn't insane at the time of the crime.
The defense filed a sentencing memorandum earlier this week detailing the psychological and physical effects of Sebena's combat experience. Sebena claimed to have killed 68 people during his military service. He also watched friends die and sometimes had to clean their blood and body parts out of military vehicles.
His mother, Linda Sebena, told the judge that she didn't want to minimize the tragedy of Jennifer's death. However, she added, her son spent years fighting in Iraq against cowards who hid behind women and children, against men who would smile at an American soldier even as they were ready to blow him to bits. The experiences broke her son psychologically, she said.
She blamed the Pentagon for training Americans to go to war but not preparing them to come home. She said she hoped Jennifer's death would spur the military to do more to help returning veterans.
"I wear my son's dog tags as a reminder that the son that went to war is not the son who came home," she said. "I ask for mercy for our son."
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.