Spader won't contest life sentence for brutal Mont Vernon killing
MANCHESTER - The state portrayed Steven Spader Monday as the psychopathic ringleader of the 2009 Mont Vernon home invasion murder who regards remorse as "weak" and "unnecessary" and likely would commit more crimes if freed.
Spader did not appear at his resentencing hearing and waived his right to argue for a lesser sentence. Yet, he said he accepts "responsibility for his actions" and - for the first time - apologized to his victims in a statement he instructed his attorneys to read to the court.
"Through my impulsive actions, I have harmed numerous individuals, both physically and mentally. I have torn apart families and ruined lives," defense attorney Jonathan Cohen read the statement aloud in Hillsborough County Superior Court.
"But still, I must beg forgiveness from everyone I have harmed. To the Cates family, I know my words hold no meaning. But I am truly sorry for the pain that I have caused you," Cohen continued reading from the hand-written letter as David Cates and his daughter, Jaimie, 14, listened from their seat in the front row of the gallery, surrounded by friends.
A jury convicted Spader, 21, in 2010 of first-degree murder and related charges for hacking Cates' wife, Kimberly, 42, to death and maiming then 11-year-old Jaimie in an early morning bedside ambush. He later bragged that he "broke up a family" and vowed to commit more crimes, the state argued.
"This isn't someone who is going to grow out of his problems. His problem is he is a psychopath. That is what he is. It isn't a phase," Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffery A. Strelzin told Judge Gillian L. Abramson.
Abramson said she will issue a new sentencing order Friday.
Strelzin dismissed the letter as "clearly disingenuous," noting Spader in December told mental health experts he felt no remorse for his crimes.
"It was hard for David and Jaimie and his friends to listen to it. David actually said it was insulting," Strelzin said afterward.
Monday's resentencing hearing was triggered by a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that essentially voided Spader's initial sentence.
"We were prepared to come in and put evidence before the court and make an argument on behalf of our client. We have been instructed to do neither," Cohen said.
In Miller v. Alabama, the court ruled mandatory life sentences without chance of parole unconstitutional for those who were under 18 years when they committed their crimes. The court said such sentencing schemes violate constitutional guarantees against cruel and unusual punishment.
Spader was sentenced in 2010 to life in prison without chance of parole for the first-degree murder of Kimberly Cates, plus 76 years for the attempted murder of her daughter and other charges. His case is still pending direct appeal before the state Supreme Court.
The new ruling requires the court to hold a sentencing hearing to consider aggravating and mitigating factors related to Spader's maturity, recklessness, ability to appreciate consequences and risks, home life, susceptibility to peer pressure and capacity for rehabilitation.
The court can still impose a mandatory life sentence without chance of parole.
Strelzin said Spader tested "very high" in psychopathic tendencies and told the state's forensic psychiatrist: "I never felt remorse. I think it is weak -- not so much weak, as unnecessary."
A month shy of his 18th birthday when the Oct. 4, 2009, home invasion occurred, Spader showed a high level of sophistication and competency, Strelzin said.
Spader not only recruited a crew of four young male accomplices, he methodically planned the break-in and cover-up, targeted a house at random to throw off police, and participated in his own plea discussions.
He ultimately broke down because of what the state speculated was Spader's fear of prison payback if he pleaded guilty to hacking an 11-year-old girl and leaving her for dead.
Strelzin claimed Spader was not amenable to rehabilitation, citing as examples his "reveling" in the Mont Vernon killing and attempts to create a "criminal enterprise" in prison whereby he would enlist people who could help him escape prison.