The former girlfriend of a man fatally stabbed by his half-brother on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation was sentenced Wednesday to one to three years in prison for conspiring with the half-brother to kill him and then trying to cover up the slaying.
The 19-year-old woman, formerly of Silver Creek, was granted youthful offender status since she was 18 at the time of the July 11, 2012, slaying of Jesse Seneca in a field off Brant Reservation Road.
Seneca’s body was found a few days later, after his family reported him missing.
With youthful offender status, the defendant’s records were sealed, and she faced a maximum prison sentence of 16 months to four years instead of the 8½ to 25 years she would have faced if tried as an adult.
The sentence, imposed by State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang, brought cries of protest from Robin Seneca, the victim’s mother, as she left the courtroom with about 15 family members and friends.
“That’s the best you can do?” she asked.
“No justice,” another person shouted outside the courtroom with other supporters who wore white T-shirts printed with the victim’s photo, his dates of birth and death, and the words, “Justice for Jesse.”
Before the sentencing, the victim’s sister, Nesa Seneca, addressed the court, asking the judge to impose the maximum prison term.
Jesse Seneca’s half-brother, Cody R. Testerman, 23, of Brant Reservation Road, was arrested a week after the slaying and indicted on a murder charge. He pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter last year before State Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller and faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced April 17.
Authorities accused Seneca’s former girlfriend of conspiring with Testerman from July 9 to July 11 in 2012, to kill him, hiding evidence of the slaying and lying to Erie County sheriff’s detectives about the killing.
She was extradited from Arizona late last year following her indictment and was arraigned Dec. 27 in Erie County Court. She pleaded guilty in February to second-degree conspiracy and two counts of first-degree hindering prosecution.
At the time of her guilty plea, Assistant District Attorney Gary W. Hackbush told the court that she and Testerman drove to Seneca’s home in Irving, where she gave Seneca’s mother a bottle of alcohol, then met with Seneca in a bedroom. He said she also exchanged text messages with Testerman that day and the following day.
Hackbush said Testerman and Seneca left the house early on July 11, 2012, and went to the field, where Testerman fatally stabbed Seneca. He said Testerman returned to Seneca’s home and got the girl, who helped him bury the body in some brush.
He said the girl then made up a story about what had happened to Seneca. Prosecutors said she moved to Arizona in late 2012 or early 2013.
Her defense attorney, Joseph J. Terranova, told the judge at Wednesday’s sentencing that his client was living there with her grandmother and trying to build a new life.
He said she didn’t know what was going to happen when she accompanied Testerman to Seneca’s home the night of the killing. He said his client, fearing what Testerman might do to her after he killed Seneca, cooperated when he gave her a rope to tie to Seneca’s feet to drag him into the brush.
He admitted that she did mislead the Seneca family and investigators about what happened that night but eventually told the truth.
The young woman, who cried as her attorney spoke, told the judge she was not going to speak before sentencing out of respect for the Seneca family, adding that she didn’t want to upset them.
The judge expressed sympathy for the Seneca family, saying she was sorry for their loss.
She said she took into consideration the defendant’s age in granting her youthful offender status. She said that while the defendant didn’t kill Seneca, she had participated by helping to move the body, an action that she said required serious consequences.
She sentenced her to one to three years in prison on each count and ordered the sentences to run concurrently.
Prosecutors declined to comment on a motive for the slaying.