Benjamin Klinger, 21, sentenced Friday to 28 to 56 years in prison, apologized for suffocating his girlfriend after she survived his deliberate, 115-mph crash into a guardrail.
"I accept full responsibility for the loss of a very special person," Klinger said of Samantha "Sammi" Heller, 17. She died Dec. 4, 2012 from crash injuries and suffocation after Klinger sat on her beside the wreckage on Route 283 in Rapho Township.
Standing and facing Heller's parents, stepparents and other family members, Klinger added, "I want you to know with all my heart I'm sorry ... really sorry."
A tearful Sandy McFalls, Heller's mother, told the judge the loss of her only daughter shattered her heart and turned her into "a prisoner in my house."
McFalls said she agreed to Klinger pleading guilty to third-degree murder rather than the uncertainty of a trial because it guarantees for nearly three decades that other women and children are safe.
"I want you to have nothing else to do (in prison) but think about how you took her life and destroyed ours," said McFalls, reading her statement to Lancaster County Judge Margaret Miller.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Wilson told the court that on the morning of Dec. 4, 2012, Klinger, of Elizabethtown, was speeding westbound on Route 283, west of Strickler Road, when he crashed a 1986 Toyota Celica into the end of a guardrail at an estimated speed of 115 mph. Investigators found no evidence of braking.
Heller, who was subjected to Klinger's physical and emotional abuse throughout an on-and-off, two-year relationship, was in the front, passenger seat before the crash.
A motorist, who came upon the crash and called 911, told investigators he saw Klinger sitting on a face-down Heller beside the car. A recording of the 911 call picked up a woman's moans, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
McFalls, in her statement, described Heller as a happy, charismatic and loving daughter who was excited about veterinary assistant studies at Lancaster Career and Technology Center. All that changed when she met Klinger, McFalls said.
McFalls said her daughter withdrew from family and friends, started failing classes and became disrespectful. "We began to do everything we could to keep Sammi away from Ben," she said.
But Heller continued seeing Klinger even after he became enraged and drove over her foot.
McFalls called kicking Heller out of the house following an argument that turned physical "the worst decision I ever made." Heller went to live with an aunt.
Daniel McFalls, Heller's stepfather, said life no longer seems as fun and it's "hard to find happiness." He said his son, who was younger than Heller, lost his best friend.
Addressing the court a second time, Klinger, sandy-haired and burly, wearing a dress shirt and tie, became emotional, struggling to say, "I'm so sorry. Sorry." He hung his head, sniffling.
Accepting Klinger's plea bargain, Judge Miller said, "Today is the first day I've seen any degree of humanity or emotion in you."
"There is no doubt in my mind you lived your life with a callousness, arrogance and a cowardliness, frankly," Miller said, "because being a bully is a coward."
"You treated (Heller) like an object, and when that object became an inconvenience, the object was removed from your path," the judge added.
She said she hopes Klinger uses his long prison term to reflect and come out a changed person.
For third-degree murder and homicide by vehicle, Klinger was sentenced to 23 to 46 years. Another three to six years were added for sending sexually explicit phone photos of him engaging in sex acts with a minor in July 2012. An additional two to four years were added for a $30 drug deal involving an undercover officer in August 2012.
Jeff Hawkes writes about social policy and the well-being of Lancaster County and its people for Lancaster Newspapers. He can be reached atÂ email@example.comÂ or (717) 481-6141.