NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — A Connecticut man who fatally stabbed his ex-girlfriend on Valentine's Day 2009 was sentenced Friday to 60 years in prison in a case that helped influence changes to the state's domestic violence laws.
James Carter II, 31, had faced up to 65 years in prison after a jury convicted him in November of murder and violating a restraining order in the killing of 25-year-old Tiana Notice outside her Plainville apartment. Notice was working on a master's degree in communications at the University of Hartford at the time of her death.
New Britain Superior Court Judge Frank D'Addabbo Jr. called the killing a senseless, needless and violent tragedy. He said evidence in the case was "chilling."
"You were inches from her, looking at her, when you were stabbing her and causing her death," D'Addabbo said. "You need to be punished and society needs to be protected."
Nearly 50 relatives and friends of Notice attended the sentencing at New Britain Superior Court. Many hugged and cried during and after the hearing. And many were upset that Carter got approval from the judge to not be in the courtroom for the proceeding. Carter was detained in a nearby room.
Notice's father, Alvin Notice, said the prison sentence will never erase the family's grief, but the family was glad justice was served.
"It's finally time for justice for Tiana's murderer," Alvin Notice said during the hearing. "I hope that he will spend the rest of his life in prison thinking each and every day of what he has done."
Prosecutors said Carter was upset after he and Notice broke up in December 2008 and she obtained a restraining order against him. They said he waited for her to get home and stabbed her 18 times.
Notice's screams were heard on a recording by a surveillance camera that she had asked her father to set up outside her apartment because she was worried about her safety. The camera video showed Notice running away from her killer, but the stabbing was out of the camera's view.
Notice also told police in a 911 call that her ex-boyfriend had just stabbed her and she was bleeding to death. Both the 911 call and the surveillance video and audio were shown to the jury.
Notice's mother, Kathy Lewis, said the last months of her daughter's life were "horrendous," as Carter terrorized her and Notice pleaded with police to do something.
"She was a fine ... beautiful, educated, intelligent and articulate young lady," Lewis said in a tearful speech. "To me, it feels like my heart is broken and it will never be made whole again until I'm reunited with Tiana in heaven. ... The void left is immeasurable."
In court, Alvin Notice read a poem he said his daughter wrote in August 2008 titled, "Chapter Closed," about leaving Carter. She wrote about being released from Carter's "temper, torture, threats, ego, jealously and insecurity."
"An empty house in solitude is how he will spend his days," she wrote. "And I rest assured in knowing: I'm beautiful, smart, and on my way!"
Alvin Notice, of Lunenberg, Mass., also said his family received an apology letter from Carter dated Nov. 2, the day after he was convicted. But Notice said he and his family didn't put much stock in the letter, because Carter had never shown remorse and had bragged about the killing.
"I hope you can find it in your hearts and prayers to forgive me for what I've done," the letter said. "I apologize sincerely from my heart and soul. God forgives and hopefully you can too. Please accept my apology?"
Carter's lawyer, public defender Christopher Eddy, never disputed that his client killed Notice and called the crime "heinous." But Eddy said Carter was in a state of "extreme emotional disturbance" at the time and shouldn't have been convicted of murder. D'Addabbo rejected Eddy's motions for a new trial and acquittal on Friday.
Eddy said Carter does have positive attributes including a "big heart" and a great sense of humor, and added his client is educated, well-read, artistic and creative. He called Carter "a tragic figure" who is emotionally fragile.
"This case exemplifies the complex duality of human nature," Eddy said.
The case was one of several violent acts in Connecticut that prompted state lawmakers to approve tougher laws against domestic violence in recent years.
The new laws included allowing electronic monitoring of domestic violence offenders, requiring police to arrest people who commit a family violence crime against someone they are dating, expanding the list of crimes for which a judge can issue criminal protective orders and requiring offenders to surrender their firearms.
State Victim Advocate Michelle Cruz said in a September 2010 report that police in Plainville and Waterbury could have done more to prevent her killing, and she recommended several reforms to lawmakers.