Somehow maintaining her composure, Jackie Watson told the man who killed her 20-year-old daughter of the pain she will always feel.
"The day Jenni-Lyn was born was the beginning of my life," Watson said at Steven Pieper's sentencing hearing. "Half of me died. I will certainly never be complete. I will limp for the rest of my days."
The 21-year-old Pieper, of Liverpool, was sentenced Tuesday to 23 years to life in prison for killing Jenni-Lyn Watson while she was home from college for Thanksgiving break. Watson, a devotee of dance, had returned home from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., for the holiday the day before she was killed. Her body was found eight days later.
"Mr. Pieper, you deserve to spend the rest of your life in state prison," Onondaga County Judge Anthony Aloi told the defendant. "They will survive. I know they will. But their hearts have been broken forever. You did that."
Pieper pleaded guilty last month to second-degree murder in the slaying of his former girlfriend. He admitted strangling and suffocating Watson inside her parents' home in the town of Clay on Nov. 19 and dumping her body in a nearby park.
Authorities said the two had dated but Watson had tried to break up with him.
Given his chance to speak in the packed courtroom, Pieper called his conduct "cowardly and self-centered," said he was consumed by sorrow, remorse and grief, and prayed for forgiveness and for Watson and her family to be at peace.
Jenni-Lyn's father and teenage sister also addressed the courtroom. Both had to pause several times to regain their composure.
"This pain I will have for the rest of my life," David Watson said.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick vowed to make certain Pieper is never paroled.
"Don't anyone here speak to the Watsons about closure," Fitzpatrick said. "There's no closure when there's an empty seat at the dinner table, when there's a missing face in a photo, when there's a missing present under the tree."
Pieper's family also was in court but declined to comment when they left.
At a news conference afterward, David Watson thanked the public and law enforcement officials for their help in the case. The family said it was satisfied with the plea agreement because it spared them a lengthy trial.
"There will never be closure. This will always be a raw, raw wound," David Watson said. "But if he's not able to get out and harm anyone else, that's what I'm hoping for.
"Jenni-Lyn will not be defined by her death," he added. "She will be defined how she lived, by her love for family and friends, her passion for dance, for her concern and empathy for children and animals, and her wonder and awe of life."