MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Fighting back tears, the father of 23-year-old murder victim Sarah Coit told a judge Friday that he and his family will always carry the weight of his daughter’s “horrible, violent” death.
“I identified Sarah's body in the basement of a morgue,” recalled Lynde Coit during a pre-sentencing hearing for his daughter’s admitted killer, and boyfriend, 33-year-old publicist Raul Barrera.
"That look on her face – the terror – will haunt me for the rest my life and will haunt the rest of her family,” he continued, struggling to keep his voice strong.
Breaking for sips of water, Lynde spoke of his only daughter’s “tremendous positive nature” and the “tremendous loss, tremendous hole that’s left” by her tragic slaying in her Lower East Side apartment last year at the hands of her abusive boyfriend.
Prosecutors said Barrera, who turned himself in within an hour of the April 10, 2011 murder, brutally stabbed the Hunter College student more than 30 times, slashing her so viciously after a heated fight that a blade of one of the knifes he used broke, others bent, and her intestines spilled from her body.
Coit’s violent death was the culmination of more than a year of repeated abuse, prosecutors said. The young woman was attempting to break free of Barrera’s “brutalization,” moving into a new apartment on Clinton Street just days before the horrific attack.
Barrera had originally made a break for Penn Station after the attack but decided to give himself over to police following a conversation with his father, who convinced his son to turn himself in, prosecutors said
"I did something bad," he calmly told officers at the 9th Precinct, according to police.
He finally pleaded guilty to the murder Monday because, in part, of the overwhelming evidence against him, his lawyer Paul Fineman said.
The rare pre-sentencing hearing, set to take place over a few days, lays out the variety of evidence against Barrera, including 911 calls from terrified neighbors who heard Coit’s excruciating screams, devastating autopsy photos and witnesses testifying to Barrera’s history of abuse – and will help Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers determine Barrera’s sentence.
He faces a maximum of 25 years to life. The hearing also creates a substantial record of the muder, which can be used against Barrera if he appeals or when he's up for parole.
Barrera's lawyer has said his client suffers from "emotional disturbances" and is expected to argue for a lowered sentence based on his mental health problems
"Domestic violence is not just a criminal justice issue, it's a national health crisis," said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance after listening to Coit's devasting testimony.
Vance said his office is working on establishing a multi-agency "Family Justice Center" that will allow victims of domestic violence to not only work with prosecutors, but will also provide a variety of medical and social services to give victims the "support and encouragement they need" to move forward with their cases.
There were 92 domestic violence-related murders last year, Vance said.