By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- The pair of teenagers who shot, killed and partially dismembered 13-year-old Jonathan DeJesus and 16-year-old Paul Damphier last summer were sentenced Thursday in Montgomery County Court.
Matthew Phelps, 16, and Anthony Brasmiester, 17, were sentenced to prison terms under negotiated plea bargains.
Phelps, who was 15 at the time of the murders, will spend between 15 years to life behind bars, while Brasmiester, who was 16, will spend 25 to life.
They each pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder in connection with an eight-count indictment handed up in December 2012.
District Attorney James E. "Jed" Conboy said on July 9, 2012, Phelps and Brasmiester shot both Damphier and DeJesus in their foreheads at a densely wooded area near a town of Florida soybean field.
"It was a cold, calculated, pre-meditated execution," Conboy said.
Several days after killing the pair, Phelps and Brasmiester returned to the scene of the crime and dismembered the boys' bodies with a machete, and put several body parts into plastic bags, Conboy said in an interview at his office after the hearing.
Conboy said Phelps later showed the scene to a friend. That friend told someone who called the police.
By that time, DeJesus and Damphier had been missing 10 days.
Based on Brasmiester's account of events in his pre-sentencing report, Conboy said the case was rooted in something that happened between Brasmiester and Damphier.
The victims and their murderers reportedly knew each other. DeJesus, Brasmiester and Damphier were all students of the Greater Amsterdam School District.
During Thursday's sentencing hearing, Sandra Damphier said Brasmiester had even spent the night at her home on several occasions, and she used to drop her son off at Brasmiester's some mornings so the pair could walk to school together.
Conboy declined to identify the issue between Brasmiester and Damphier, but said Brasmiester disclosed it to Phelps, and "the way they agreed to address it was to kill Paul Damphier."
The murders were the culmination of weeks of planning and "Internet chat," Conboy said, adding that DeJesus was not an original target.
"Unfortunately, with him having tagged along with Damphier that night, [Phelps and Brasmiester] felt it necessary to kill him to prevent any witnesses," Conboy said.
While she read her victim impact statement during the sentencing, Sandra Damphier said DeJesus had spent the night on July 8, and the next afternoon, her son had a dentist appointment.
Later, Sandra Damphier said she dropped off both DeJesus and her son to Brasmiester's home on Vanderveer Street in Amsterdam.
"I thought nothing of it," she said, adding she believed Brasmiester took advantage of Paul's trust that night.
Conboy said when DeJesus and Damphier showed up to Brasmiester's home, Brasmiester called Phelps, and they agreed to put their plan in motion.
Brasmiester had a .22 caliber shotgun, which could be disassembled, hidden under his clothes, Conboy said. He took the pair to a soybean field not far from Phelps' grandparents' home, where Phelps, a Florida resident, was staying for the summer.
There, Phelps was waiting with another .22, Conboy said.
"Details from that point on are a little murky, although we do know Phelps' .22 had a 10-round magazine, and Brasmiester had a single shot," Conboy said. "Eleven casings were recovered at the scene."
A ballistics report indicated that the 10 Frontier brass-colored shells could not be excluded as having been fired from Phelps' rifle, but it could exclude the single silver CCI shell, Conboy said.
Conversely, the report could not exclude Brasmiester's rifle as having shot the silver shell, but could exclude the 10 brass shells, Conboy said.
"That means there were two shooters," Conboy said.
The district attorney said it was difficult to tell how many gunshot wounds each boy sustained because of the condition of their bodies when they were found, but it's been estimated three made contact.
Conboy said one suffered a wound to their shoulder blade, and both boys were shot in their foreheads.
"It was an execution," Conboy repeated. "It wasn't a rash, spur of the moment decision."
During the hearing, Phelps' attorney, Robert Abdella, disagreed with Conboy's assessment about the premeditation.
"There are some factual items there in dispute," Abdella said. "Those details are not important for this sentencing."
Fulton County Judge Polly Hoye, who presided over the case, said the court transcripts will be sent to Phelps' and Brasmiester's detention centers for consideration of housing arrangements, and will additionally be considered by future parole boards.
DeJesus' and Damphier's family members said that's why their addresses stressed their beliefs that Phelps and Brasmiester are killers who have no potential for rehabilitation.
They said their beliefs were furthered when just a month and a half ago, they learned that in addition to being shot to death, the boys were dismembered with a machete.
Sandra Damphier and her daughter Nicole Damphier, along with Bridget Masesie and Laura Lewis, DeJesus' mother and aunt, addressed the killers in court.
Holding up photographs of the boys, each glared straight at the convicts, but the stares were not returned. Brasmiester's gaze was mostly directed at the table in front of him, while Phelps' eyes shifted blankly.
Masesie called Phelps and Brasmiester "psychopaths." She asked what kind of person would be able to dismember remains that had sustained the severe July weather, and then attempt to show it off to others.
"Only an evil person could stomach that," said Masesie, looking at her son's killers. "I have never seen such evil in a child's eyes."
"It was a crime of Satan," Sandra Damphier said.
Had she known about the dismemberment sooner, Masesie said she never would have agreed to the plea bargain.
"Only an evil person could stomach that," Masesie said. "They'll kill again. They have no remorse, and they look proud for what they've done."
Conboy said it's standard for authorities to be guarded with such details until the trial process is complete.
"It would have been very prejudicial to the defendants to release that pre-trial," Conboy said. "We're guarded with the facts in any event, and in this case, if that got out, it would have been very difficult to get a fair trial."
Neither Phelps nor Brasmiester spoke during the hearing Thursday. Brasmiester's attorney, Joseph McCoy of Rensselaer, spoke on his behalf, saying first Brasmiester wanted to apologize to his own family, and then to the families of the victims.
Masesie, Lewis and the Damphiers pledged to be at every parole hearing to ensure Brasmiester and Phelps are not released from prison.
"Fifteen years is nowhere close to enough time. I pray to God that given the fact you admitted your guilt, and my nephew's body was partially dismembered, his hands found in plastic bags, that the parole board considers this horrific crime, and denies your release. I hope you anxiously await to see the beauties of the world, and you countdown the days until your release, and then you are denied."
Hoye said it's unlikely the pair will be released on parole when they become eligible, describing the case as "disturbing."
"The parole board will undoubtedly consider the heinousness of these crimes, and the apparent lack of remorse on behalf of both defendants," Hoye said. "I'm quite sure due to the nature of these crimes, the parole board will not be quick to release either of these individuals."
Family members also slung harsh words at Amsterdam police, who they've criticized since the boys first went missing. Both mothers said the department was of no help when they reported the boys' disappearance, but the department said its investigation and interviews indicated the teens were runaways and didn't want to be found.
Sandra Damphier suspects it might have had something to do with her son's last name or skin tone. She wondered if the situation would have been handled the same if it was the other way around.
Conboy said by the time the boys were reported missing, they were already dead.
"In all likelihood, the bodies never would have been found, because the area was over an embankment and heavily wooded with thorn trees," he said. "But Phelps told someone about it, and took them to see it because they didn't believe it."
"There's nothing the police could have done that could have changed what happened," he said.