Family and friends of the late Frank Ricardi Jr. passed the tissues up and down the rows of seats in Courtroom 204 of DeKalb County Courthouse on Tuesday after the man who pleaded guilty to his murder was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Intermittent colds aside, the room was nearly silent after judging Eric Laskowski, 24, who would spend most of the next four decades running the repair in Illinois. Laskowski will be credited with the time he spent in DeKalb County Jail, where it has been since October 7, 2005 – the day Ricardi was killed.
“I know we are all here for justice, but no sentence I can ever impose will be just for the loss of this young man,” Circuit Judge Robbin Stuckert said to Riccardi’s family. “… What did occur that night, I don’t know. I have five versions, if not six, of what happened. … What I do know is that (Laskowksi) was an active participant in a brutal murder to someone who thought that he was his friend.”
Police say Laskowski met 23-year-old Riccardi in a rural Kirkland field between midnight and 2 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2005, to sell marijuana, then robbed him of $1,900, and beat and killed him with an aluminum baseball bat. Marijuana was never recovered in connection with the crime, and the murder weapon was not found.
Laskowski pleaded guilty last year to one count of first-degree murder, which is punishable by 20 to 60 years in prison. Stuckert granted a motion in December that could have extended that sentence to up to 100 years, based on the brutality of the crime.
DeKalb County First Assistant State’s Attorney Bill Engerman recommended that Stuckert hand down a 70-year sentence for Laskowski. But defense attorney David Camic stressed that 20 years is “an extremely long time” and recommended Laskowski receive 20 to 25 years.
Before the sentencing, Camic asked that the court eliminate from evidence part of a pre-sentencing report that Laskowski filled out.
The report should not be considered because Laskowski was confused, Camic said, noting that he omitted one of his siblings in part of the statement.
Engerman argued that Laskowski has earned a high school diploma, is literate and that the pre-sentencing investigation report contains facts that should be considered in any sentencing. Stuckert denied the motion and Engerman presented the report, which included Laskowski’s final version of what happened.
The account Laskwoski provided in the pre-sentencing report differed from what he said during interviews with investigators, when he admitted to beating Riccardi, “so many times that his arm hurt the next day” and described him as looking like a rag doll, according to court documents.
In the report read Tuesday, Laskowski instead passed the blame for Riccardi’s murder to Karar M. Albaiaty, 22, of Rockford. Albaiaty was arrested May 13, 2008, after police said DNA and fingerprint evidence linked him to the crime scene. He pleaded guilty to an armed robbery charge last year and is serving a 13-year prison sentence.
Stuckert said she was concerned that Laskowski minimized his responsibility in the report.
Victim impact statements written by Riccardi’s mother, father, and one of his two brothers were read before the court Tuesday afternoon, and Laskowski addressed the court just before Stuckert imposed the sentence.
“I want to say how sorry I am for all the lives that have been changed forever after the night Frank Riccardi was murdered,” he said, adding that he knows he’s been dishonest at various points during the last four years. “I realize how selfish and wrong all the lies and half-truths I have told the court were.”
Riccardi’s mother, father and two brothers stood hugging each other in the courtroom following the sentencing. They said they were at a loss for words but did note that they’re pleased the court portion of the incident is “finally over.”
Laskowski’s family members declined to comment.
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