Essex House Killer Gets 23 Years to Life, Sparking Outrage from Victim's Family
By Ben Fractenberg
MIDTOWN — The tearful sister of slain investment adviser Andree "Sara" Bejjani, who was brutally murdered in the Essex House on Central Park South in 2009, slammed the minimum 23-year term given to her sister’s admitted killer, 31-year-old Derrick Praileau during his sentencing Friday.
"All of us will pass away, but none of us deserves to be butchered the way Sara was," the victim's sister Nada Bejjani told Judge Carol Berkman in Manhattan Criminal Court.
"The court promised leniency for confession to a crime that would have been easily proven by overwhelming evidence," she added, during an emotional speech in the courtroom.
"And no matter how long Mr. Praileau ends up serving behind bars, our loss will always remain beyond repair. Sara will not come back to life. Am I questioning the wisdom of this Court? I do not know."
Praileau will serve 23 years to life for murder and attempted rape after pleading guilty to the horrific attack in May. If the case had gone to trial, he would have faced a maximum of life without parole.
The former Essex House housekeeping manager said he was under the influence of drugs and booze at the time of the murder and was trawling the hotel for a victim.
Praileau enetered the 44-year-old Bejjani's room, where she had been living for about a month, while she was sleeping and tried to rape her. When she resisted, he strangled her and stabbed her in the neck.
His lawyer, Richard Siracusa, said Praileau was the "personification of someone with no criminal record who abuses cocaine and alcohol."
Praileau pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted rape, reduced from the original charges he faced initially, in exchange for a reduced sentence.
While Judge Carol Berkman sympathized with Bejjani, she said that the criminal justice system was "imperfect."
"Even the death penalty would not bring your sister back or erase these memories," said Berkman.
Bejjani cried several times while addressing the court.
She said she and her 7-year-old daughter, Reem, were supposed to meet Sara and their brother for a six-day vacation in New York at the time of the killing.
Bejjani and her daughter arrived at the Essex House after flying in from Dubai. Sara was supposed to meet them in the lobby of the hotel, but was nowhere to be found.
They then went up to her room where they found a group of detectives.
"At that moment I still had no idea what was going on. I even told Reem 'Sara will shortly come out and will be very excited to see you.' All this happened while by sister was lying dead in a pool of her own blood inside her own room."
Praileau expressed his remorse Friday.
"To Sara’s family and friends, I apologize for their loss," mumbled Praileau. "To the court, I’m sorry."
His words seemed to be little consolation for Bejjani, who was visibly upset while he spoke.
"I would like to point out that everyone will understandably go on living a normal life, while my husband, my daughter, my sons, my brother and I will always live with the pain of missing Sara, and of thinking of the measure of pain she suffered at death," she said.
"I love you Sara. You will always live in our minds and hearts. Rest in peace."