Robert Bonelli, the 26-year-old Columbine obsessed Upstate New York mall gunman, was sentenced yesterday…
KINGSTON – Hudson Valley Mall gunman Robert Bonelli Jr. was sentenced on Friday to 32 years in state prison, the maximum allowed under the guilty plea he entered in March.
State Sup-reme Court Justice Mich-ael Kavanagh handed down the sentence after Bonelli’s father tearfully pleaded for mercy and after a security camera video showing the shooting spree’s first moments was shown in court.
The judge said Bonelli was “truly a disturbed, troubled man” but that the defendant clearly knew what he was doing when he opened fire in the mall on Feb. 13, 2005.
“You had to know that you … placed lives in grave danger,” Kavanagh told the 26-year-old defendant, who was clad in orange jail garb. “You simply did not care what the consequences were when you fired that weapon.
“What happened here was horrendous,” the judge said.
BONELLI apologized during Friday’s court proceeding, which the two victims, Thomas Haire of Pine Plains and Stephen Silk of Kingston, attended.
“I’m sorry that all this happened. This is not the kind of person that I am,” Bonelli said.
Bonelli asked to address Haire directly, but Kavanagh said no.
HAIRE, a 20-year-old National Guardsman who was manning a recruiting table at the mall on the day of the shooting spree, read from a prepared statement in court.
“I wish there were mall security to protect us from Mr. Bonelli and to inform us of his whereabouts and what to do,” said Haire, who suffered a serious leg injury in the shooting. “I just don’t think he should have gotten as far as he did. But he did.”
BONELLI’S attorney, Ulster County Public Defender Andrew Kossover, described his client as a man wracked with low self-esteem and deep depression and twisted by years of alcohol and drug abuse.
All of those things taken together created a “perfect storm,” Kossover said.
Bonelli, who lived in Glasco at the time of the shooting, said in court that he felt everyone was against him and that his life was doomed in the time leading up to the shooting spree. He also said he “should have got help” long ago for his substance abuse problem.
“I just hope that this court forgives me for what I have done,” Bonelli said.
“This man’s judgment was not impaired,” Williams said.
To make his point, Williams read aloud a journal entry that Bonelli made in 2004: “The wolf within is crawling out of my skin. … The only one who can stop me is me. … I will kill as many as fate allows. … Hate is a terrible thing to waste.”
Williams also quoted from a note found in Bonelli’s vehicle after the shooting: “The lonely man strikes with absolute rage.”
Bonelli’s defenders, including psychiatrist Dr. Steven Price, noted that some of Bonelli’s writings merely were taken from song lyrics.
BONELLI has said he tried to commit suicide in the hours before the mall shooting but couldn’t bring himself to do it. So he decided to open fire at the mall, he said, figuring he’d be killed by police – a practice commonly referred to a “suicide by cop.”
Williams said that didn’t make sense because there typically are no armed police officers in a shopping mall.
The prosecutor also noted that materials found in Bonelli’s home after the shooting indicated he had a “perverse” interest in the 1999 shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Paul Fowler, a family friend, said the sentence was unjust.
“This was a case where the court system failed,” Fowler said. “What it failed to do is to look at other aspects of this case.”
Silk, who suffered superficial wounds in the shooting spree, said the sentence was correct.
“He got the maximum, and that is just what he deserved,” Silk said.
THE 32-YEAR sentence comprises concurrent 25-year terms for two counts of first-degree assault and two counts of criminal use of a firearm, and a seven-year term for one-count of second-degree assault.
Bonelli also was sentenced for several less-serious counts. Those sentences will be included in the 32-year term. Bonelli will be eligible for parole in 26 years.
Unjust? No. An unjust sentence would have been if no consequences came to a man who shot two people in a mall shooting spree.