By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO June 20, 2003 Hal Karen, the husband and convicted murderer of Tammy Lynn Karen of Bloomingburg, was sentenced yesterday by Sullivan County Court Judge Frank J. LaBuda to what in essence will be a term of 29 years-to-life in state prison.
For police and relatives, the 1,001-day-long wait was finally over.
Thousands of hours of complex investigative work and court preparation paid off as The Garbage Can Murderer had his final day in court.
But for Karens elderly parents, they had to face the stark reality that their son would likely be spending his remaining years behind bars.
Tammy Lynn Karen had been missing since mid-1999. After a couple found what was eventually proven to be the badly decomposed remains of Tammy Karen down a steep embankment off Old Route 17 near Wurtsboro last August, Karen was charged with murder in the second degree (a Class A felony), making a false instrument for filing in the 1st degree (Class E felony), perjury in the second degree (Class E felony) and making a punishable false written statement (a misdemeanor).
After a ten-day jury trial, the 43-year-old Karen was convicted on all counts on April 8.
In the wake of the conviction, Karens attorney, Henri Shawn, filed an order to show cause to set aside the guilty verdicts based upon two issues in essence seeking a retrial due to his claims of juror misconduct and insufficiency of the evidence (cause of death).
On June 10, Judge LaBuda ruled by decision and order of the court to deny the motions filed by the defense and set sentencing for yesterday.
In his pre-sentencing presentation before the court, Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen read a letter from Tammy Lynns sister, Toni Valentine, into the record before the court.
In heartrending tones, it told of a sisters anguish at losing a sibling who at times walked a self-destructive path through life, and for three years living with the feeling that something terrible had haapened.
My hope is that he will never have a chance to hurt another person, she added of her brother-in-law.
Lungen was visibly moved during his summation, as he lambasted Karens military record and presented evidence of the defendants indictment as a juvenile for armed robbery involving barbituates in 1977.
A husband would not kill their wife, put them in a garbage can, tie them up in two [trash] bags and let them decompose in the woods for three years, he said.
Shawn responded that, despite the guilty verdicts, I believe my client to be innocent of the charges.
He read into the record two supportive character affidavits from a Special Forces sergeant major and a lieutenant colonel, noting that several character witnesses he anticipated calling to the stand were on active duty in the Middle East at the time of the trial.
Asked by Judge LaBuda if he had anything to say to the court before sentencing, Karens voice rang out strong as he replied, No sir, my attorney Mr. Shawn said it all.
Before announcing the sentence, Judge LaBuda (a U.S. Army major who served during Desert Storm) referred to the military experience represented on the bench, the prosecuting DA and the defendent, noting that his son Kurt is in harms way in Iraq and his younger son is in basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga.
History will judge a society by how we value life, he said. Even a dead body deserves a fair burial.
Judge LaBuda sentenced Karen as follows: murder in the second degree (25 years to life); making a false statement for filing (1 1/3 - 4 years); perjury in the second degree (1 1/3 - 4 years); and for the misdemeanor conviction, a year in the county jail.
The sentences for the Class E felony convictions will be served consecutively with count one (murder in the second degree), in essence sending Karen to state prison for a term of 29 years to life.
In brief post-sentencing comments, the local DA said, He got what he deserved and added that, as soon as he saw the trash can containing Tammy Karens remains tied off with parachute cord in a bowline on a bight (a form of knot), he knew police were looking for a suspect with a military background.
Presented as evidence by the prosecution, the cordage and type of knot played a prominent role during the trial.
After the local media and Court TV called it a wrap, Hal Karens father walked somberly out of the court building.
Still maintaining his sons innocence, he said of the murder trial, Its a bummer.