A California man who drove cross-country to confront his estranged wife before fatally shooting her and another person inside a New Jersey church is a cold-blooded killer, a judge said Friday in sentencing the man to two consecutive life sentences for the crimes.
"I try to understand the best I can what motivates a person," state Superior Court Judge Salem Vincent Ahto told Joseph Pallipurath before a courtroom packed with about 50 friends and relatives of victims Reshma James and Dennis John Malloosseril. "I come to the conclusion that there are just some individuals who are cold-blooded killers, and you are one of them."
The sentence, which also included 20 years to be served consecutively for the wounding of a third person in the attack, rejected defense attorney Harley Breite's argument that Pallipurath hadn't planned to kill anyone but was overcome by emotion at the time of the killings.
Pallipurath, who was visibly shaking as he sat shackled in green prison garb, echoed those words when he briefly addressed the gallery.
"I didn't intend to do it, but I had no control over myself that day," he said. "I am truly sorry."
Pallipurath, of Sacramento, was convicted last month of murdering the 24-year-old James and 25-year-old Malloosseril, a bystander who tried to help her. He also was convicted of attempted murder for shooting Silvy Perincheril, who was in a coma for a month after the shooting but survived.
Perincheril's son, Jacob, spoke to the court of how his mother and father had planned to retire and travel the world, before the shooting left her in a wheelchair permanently.
"Now, it's difficult for her to move from one room to another," he said. "She's still haunted by the defendant's angry face that morning. She still feels he's going to harm her."
Prosecutors said Pallipurath drove across the country to confront his wife, who had moved to New Jersey to stay with Perincheril's family allegedly because of abuse by Pallipurath.
On the morning of Nov. 23, 2008, Pallipurath burst into the vestibule of St. Thomas Syrian Orthodox Knanaya Church in Clifton and confronted James. Of five shots he fired, four lodged in the heads of the three victims, Ahto said.
The killings opened a deep wound in the tight-knit Knanaya community, an ancient Christian sect with roots in the Middle East and southern India and estimated by church officials to have about 50,000 to 100,000 members worldwide.
The petite Perincheril was a school nurse and Sunday-school teacher and Malloosseril was known for his vibrant personality and countless hours spent working with children.
"He was loved by all," a young cousin, Andrew Alummoottil, said Friday. "I wanted to be just like him."
In the 24 hours after Malloosseril's death his parents agreed to donate his organs, and five people received his heart, lungs, kidneys and pancreas.
"He not only gave up his life helping someone on that fateful day, he gave the ultimate gift of life," his mother, Aley, told the court.
While several speakers said they would forgive Pallipurath and pray for him, not everyone was in a charitable state of mind.
"I will never forgive what he did," said Nijith Kurian, a close friend of Malloosseril's. "I hope he suffers very badly, physically, mentally and emotionally, and I hope he never gets out."