MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — Calmly and slowly, Raul Barrera, the 35-year-old former publicist who admitted to brutally stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death in her Lower East Side apartment, told a judge Monday he was "sorry and ashamed" for the horific crime.
"She was a precious human being who I loved," Barrera said, before being given the maximum 25 years to life prison sentence for mercilessly beating, then slashing 23-year-old Sarah Coit more than 30 times with five different knives last April — and leaving her to die in a pool of her own blood. "If I could replace her life with mine, I would."
Prosecutors said Barrera, who turned himself in within an hour of the April 10, 2011 murder attacked Coit so viciously after a heated fight that a blade of one of the knives 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 and humiliation, prosecutors said. The Hunter College student was attempting to break free of Barrera’s “brutalization,” moving into a new apartment on Clinton Street just days before the murder.
In asking for the maximum sentence, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos made an impassioned plea to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers, describing the “nightmare” of that April evening using details he said have left everyone, including the court “scarred.”
After Barrera pleaded guilty to second degree murder last month, prosecutors were able to lay out a variety of damning evidence against him — 911 calls from terrified neighbors who heard Coit’s excruciating screams, devastating autopsy photos and witnesses testifying to Barrera’s history of abuse — during a rare pre-sentencing hearing.
Coit’s father, who did not speak at the sentencing, gave heartbreaking testimony during the hearing, telling Judge Carruthers he would always be haunted by look of terror on his young daughter’s face when he had to identify her body at the morgue.
The pre-sentencing hearing also created a substantial record of the murder, which can be used against Barrera if he appeals or when he's up for parole.
During Tuesday’s sentencing Barrera’s lawyer, Paul Fineman asked for leniency from the judge, saying his client suffered from a lifetime of mental illness and depression — and that he’d tried to kill himself when his ex-wife divorced him more than 10 years ago. The ending of his relationship with Coit caused his violent outburst, he said.
But Judge Carruthers concluded the maximum sentence was well deserved for this “awful, awful case…one of the most violent ever described to this court.”
Barrera, who has a son from a previous relationship, “tragically, intentionally and with purpose,” murdered Coit, Carruthers said — destroying her life and his own.
“You could have avoided this grief and harm by simply doing what Sarah Coit wanted you to do — leave her alone."
According to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Coit's death was one of 92 domestic violence related deaths in New York City in 2011.
“The defendant killed an innocent young woman and changed a family forever," Vance said in a statement. “This case illustrates the sobering fact that domestic violence can quickly turn fatal, and that the most dangerous time for a victim is when she or he tries to leave a relationship."
The city and the DA's office plan to open a Family Justice Center for victims of domestic abuse next year. The center — the city's fourth, following Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx — will house civil and criminal services, as well as other programs for victims of domestic violence.