Monsignor David Lee, who was threatened with a knife, tied up and robbed last fall in his South Buffalo rectory, has forgiven his three attackers.
He also asked the judge to sentence them to the minimum of five years in prison, along with treatment for the drug addiction that led to the break-in.
Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio today acknowledged receiving the monsignor’s request in a victim impact statement he sent her before sentencing.
But she said she was imposing a longer prison term of 10 years for what the three defendants did to the priest that night and for the protection of society.
“These were cold-blooded crimes against an innocent person,” she said.
The judge called it a classic example of how drug addiction leads to serious crimes.
One of the defendants, Daniel Bernardi, 21, started drinking and taking drugs at a young age amid a troubled family life that led to foster care and detention at a facility for troubled youths, according to his attorney, Daniel Grasso.
He ran away from the youth facility at age 17 and spent a year hitchhiking across the country, abusing drugs from Buffalo to Portland, Ore., Grasso said. The drugs, including methamphetamines, heroin, ecstasy and LSD, “took their toll,” he said.
The drug addiction led to crime but only one prior misdemeanor conviction, the attorney noted, adding that the robbery at the rectory was out of character for Bernardi.
Duane Dalton, 25, and Michael Rodriguez, 32, also had drug problems, their attorneys told the judge.
The defendants, who all lived on Harvey Place, pleaded guilty in February to first-degree burglary and robbery for the break-in Sept. 27 in the rectory of Our Lady of Charity Catholic Church, formerly St. Ambrose, on Ridgewood Road.
They faced a maximum prison term of up to 25 years.
Bernardi, whom the monsignor had helped before with gift cards for food, came to the rectory and asked him for $400, but the monsignor offered him $40, the judge said.
The defendant returned with his two co-defendants and broke into the rectory by pushing in a window air-conditioning unit, prosecutors said.
They came to the monsignor’s personal quarters on the second floor and took money from his wallet along with watches and money from his dresser, prosecutors said.
Dalton, armed with a knife, and the others then forced him downstairs and made him open the parish safe. They took the money from the weekly collection for the poor. Before fleeing, Rodriguez tied up the monsignor with a phone cord.
The money, totaling more than $550, and valuables were recovered when police arrested the suspects later that evening, prosecutors said.
The judge noted the impact of the crime on the monsignor, who said he has trouble sleeping and startles easily.
“Also, on many Friday nights (the night on which the robbery took place), I have this uneasy feeling that it is going to happen again,” he said in his victim impact statement.
“Because this happened to me, I do not want to see this to happen to anyone else.”
The crime also led to the posting of a sign at the rectory saying the church can no longer provide food cards and other assistance to people coming to the door, according to Assistant District Attorney Mara L. McCabe.
All three defendants apologized to the monsignor, who was not in the courtroom, and their families.
But the judge said she found it unsettling that Bernardi and Dalton showed little remorse, while Rodriguez cried as he apologized. “It is good to see a little remorse,” she told him.