After serving 12 years in prison for killing her step-great-grandmother, Katherine Seeber was held up as something of a rehabilitation success story, a woman who confronted past domestic violence to understand her criminal behavior and who mentored other female prisoners.
But Seeber, 32, formerly of Wilton, apparently couldn’t break the cycle of violent relationships, and she became a victim herself when she was stabbed to death Tuesday at her Queens apartment, allegedly by a jealous boyfriend.
New York City police have arrested 38-year-old Pedro Sanchez, who they say is homeless, and charged him with second-degree murder, The Associated Press reported. The New York Daily News reported that Sanchez stabbed Seeber in the face and torso after learning she was seeing someone else.
Seeber had been out of prison for less than 11 months; she was paroled to New York City in July 2012 from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in Westchester County. She had just started a job a few months ago as a receptionist at an office, where she apparently met Sanchez, Saratoga County District Attorney James A. Murphy III said.
She served 12 years in prison for the killing of Ruth Witter, 91, of Colonie. Witter was strangled at home and her body dumped at the Saratoga National Historical Park in the town of Stillwater.
In May 2012, after a successful appeal, Seeber was back in Saratoga County Court to enter a new guilty plea for her role in Witter’s slaying. She broke down in tears as she addressed Witter’s son and daughter-in-law.
She described how in prison she had learned through counseling and domestic violence courses how her past led to her allowing the killing to take place.
“I offer this to you not as an excuse, but as an explanation to answer the questions that you had all these years,” she said then.
John Ciulla, the now-retired Saratoga County public defender who represented Seeber for the dozen years her case wound through the legal system, said Thursday he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of Seeber’s death.
“It goes to speak about the bigger tragedy of domestic violence and the stranglehold of domestic violence,” he said. “Even after she was educated about it, she still apparently chose a boyfriend of this nature.”
Domestic violence affected Seeber’s life from the beginning, Ciulla said.
Her mother fled with young Katherine and her younger brother to Idaho to escape domestic abuse, Ciulla said. A childhood of trauma led to Seeber as a teenager seeking out a series of relationships with boyfriends who also were violent.
“She didn’t realize at that age the extent of domestic violence and the effect it had on her life,” Ciulla said.
Only after attending the programs in prison did she begin to understand, and Ciulla saw a marked difference in Seeber between when he first met her and a second round of court appearances last year.
“I was struck by the maturity that she had achieved as a young woman and all of the things that she had done in prison,” he said.
Besides the domestic violence course, Seeber also took college classes, an anger management class and a cosmetology program and involved herself with church groups.
Still, Seeber’s upbringing never fully explained her killing of Witter, Murphy contended.
“I certainly understand the difficulties that she may have had,” he said. “I still don’t think, though, that the difficult circumstances under which she was brought up give her an excuse to commit a homicide.”
Seeber initially pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
She then testified against co-defendant Jeffrey Hampshire, saying he strangled Witter and she helped him dispose of the body. But Hampshire was acquitted of murder at trial and convicted only of burglary, for which he served a short sentence.
About halfway into her sentence, Seeber appealed to the court to take back her guilty plea, and in 2011 won the right to a new trial on the grounds that a state evidence technician who admitted to faking some evidence tests and committed suicide may have lied about tests in the Seeber case.
As the date for a new trial approached, Seeber unexpectedly pleaded guilty again in May 2012, this time to lesser charges of first-degree manslaughter and third-degree burglary. She was sentenced to 141⁄2 years in prison, and because of the 12 years she had already served, was released in July.
She had hoped to move to Washington state to be with her brother, something Ciulla said was a time-consuming process that required the approval of her parole officer in the city and approval of Washington.
In the meantime, she had worked as a nanny before getting the receptionist job, said Benjamin Ostrer, a Westchester County attorney who along with a New York City law firm helped represent Seeber pro bono in her appeal.
The attorneys, including Ciulla, planned to meet up with Seeber in July for lunch, Ostrer said.
Ostrer was in regular contact with her on Facebook, email and phone, but she never mentioned Sanchez.
“I was unaware of any difficulty she was having with boyfriends,” he said. “She was always very upbeat, always very positive.”
Seeber had plans for her life, and Ostrer believed she would be a productive member of society.
“It’s kind of like reading a good book and having someone tear the last chapters out,” he said.
Hampshire, Seeber’s one-time co-defendant, has since twice been convicted of felonies, most recently for tampering with evidence in a fatal hit-and-run accident.
The 32-year-old is serving two to four years in state prison for removing a windshield from a car that struck and fatally injured a man in Saratoga Springs in March 2010. Hampshire was a passenger in the car.
He will have a parole hearing in January 2014, according to the state Department of Corrections.
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