WILKES-BARRE — Cody Lee’s lawyer painted a picture of a once-troubled young man from a troubled family, who is remorseful and has been a model prisoner since his arrest in the 2009 shooting death of his great-grandfather.
But Charles Rado’s argument that his teen client should not be subject to post-prison probation failed to sway the prosecution and the judge during Lee’s sentencing in Luzerne County Court Friday morning.
Quite the opposite, First Assistant District Attorney Samuel Sanguedolce said the prosecution believes probation would be important to help Lee “assimilate into society once he is released from incarceration.”
Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. sentenced Lee to serve 14 to 28 years in prison — as agreed during an August plea deal — to be followed by seven years of probation. Sklarosky did give Lee credit for three years, 10 months and 16 days already served.
Lee was 16 years old when he shot and killed his 80-year-old great-grandfather, Herbert Lee, inside their Lake Township home in December, 2009.
Now 19, Lee said few words: “no, sir,” came as his quiet reply to the judge when asked if he wished to speak before sentencing.
Members of Lee’s family also had nothing to say in public, as 10 of them watched silently from a jury box as the shackled teen, long brown hair cascading onto the shoulders of his dark suit, listened to the proceedings.
Sanguedolce said relatives opted instead to submit victim impact statements to the judge in writing. Members of the family also declined to comment when approached by reporters after court.
“This matter has been, as you can imagine, an emotional roller coaster for the family,” Sanguedolce said.
It also has left them very much a house divided.
“There is an internal division between the family members,” said Sanguedolce, with some expressing support for Cody Lee, and others seeking justice for his slaying of Herbert Lee. “The family is the family of both, for the most part.”
Rado said prior to sentencing that Lee “accepts full responsibility for his actions,” and is “very remorseful.”
Assuming the judge’s acceptance, Lee’s Aug. 14 plea deal all but assured the terms of his prison sentence. It was the question of probation which seemed to hang in the balance Friday, and over which Rado fought one more battle on behalf of the client he and Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. have represented pro bono during several long years.
Rado detailed a childhood mired in suffering, abandonment and loss: a father with brain damage, and a mother suffering from emotional issues who Rado said abandoned the boy at age 9 to a life lived bouncing from relation to relation.
That chaotic life was followed in the space of a few short years by several deaths in the family. Lee underwent some therapy, and seemed to respond well, Rado said. But against professional advice, the boy’s great-grandparents pulled him out of treatment, and his growing emotional issues “went untreated for the next seven years,” the attorney said.
“Most people don’t have an ideal upbringing,” Judge Joseph Sklarosky Jr. observed, contrasting Lee’s childhood with those of the majority of people who do not go on to commit murder.
Sanguedolce has previously said that had the case gone to trial, the evidence would have shown that Lee had a notebook that outlined a plan he intended on carrying out, including killing his father and great-grandfather — a list he allegedly showed to a friend at school.
Lee knew where the gun was inside the home and took screws out of a gun cabinet to obtain the weapon and ammunition. He fired one shot, which struck his great-grandfather in the head.
Following his arrest, Lee spent time at Adelphoi Village, a Southwestern Pennsylvania treatment center for young people. There, Rado said, Lee followed the rules, responded well to therapy, interacted well with peers and turned into a good student.
Tests found “the defendant is not anti-social,” Rado said, and that “rehabilitation is possible.” Rado added that he believed a decade or more behind bars could offer such an opportunity, without the need for probation.
“He can be salvaged as a human being,” Rado said.
But Sanguedolce cautioned that a pre-sentence investigation revealed that Lee feels he no longer needs mental health and substance treatment.
If anything, Sanguedolce added, all the facts about Lee’s life before and after the killing “would support a lengthy term of (probation) supervision.”
Lee is to remain at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility for 30 days, and wherever his case goes from here, it won’t be in the hands of Rado and Olszewski.
They agreed to represent Lee for free after hearing about his case soon after the shooting, despite his ability to qualify for a public defender — a move Olszewski previously called “our chance to give back to the community.”
The judge accepted a request by Olszewski to withdraw as counsel, with Lee to be represented by a public defender in future matters.