A man who killed his stepfather by setting him on fire while he slept was sentenced Monday to the maximum sentence: 25 years to life in prison.
A Schenectady County Court jury in December found Andrell Leppanen guilty of second-degree murder and first-degree assault in connection with the death of Kevin Hawkins, who was mortally injured at the family’s home on Bridge Street in Schenectady on Aug. 26, 2016.
“The court has an obligation to protect society and to see this kind of behavior is unacceptable under any circumstances,” said acting Schenectady County Court Judge Michael V. Coccoma, who presided over the trial.
Coccoma noted that trial evidence showed Leppanen planned his actions, attacked Hawkins while he was at this most vulnerable, and has never shown any remorse, even during his initial interview with police when he provided a detailed confession. Coccoma sentenced Leppanen to 25 years-to-life on the murder charge and 25 years on the assault charge, with the sentences to be served at the same time.
In a brief victim impact statement before sentencing, Leppanen’s mother, Latonia Hawkins, noted her son’s diagnosed mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but also described the huge impact that Kevin Hawkins’ death had on their family.
“It was like a truck hit us head-on. The effect was unimaginable,” Latonia Hawkins said. “I would only hope no family would ever have to go through what our family went through.”
She opened her statement by recalling Kevin Hawkins as a “husband, father and friend. Everyone who knew him knew he had a heart of gold.”
Assistant District Attorney Christina Tremante-Pelham said the trial jury rejected a mental health defense, and that at no time since the incident has Leppanen expressed any remorse for what he did.
“He didn’t just kill Kevin Hawkins, he did it in a way that would cause maximum pain, and he thought about it beforehand,” she told the court.
Tremante-Pelham noted that Leppanen has a history of violent behavior, including two assault convictions — one of them for a felony — in Albany County.
“This is a violent, dangerous man,” she said.
Leppanen, 31, declined to address the court when offered the opportunity.
County Public Defender Stephen Signore, who represented Leppanen, said he plans to appeal the case. He argued for imposing something less than the maximum sentence, noting the mental illness. He said Leppanen sought admission to Ellis Hospital’s mental health unit two weeks before the murder, saying he felt a violent act coming on. Ellis held him for two days and discharged him, Signore said.
The attack happened at the 925 Bridge St. apartment where Leppanen lived with his mother and Hawkins. Leppanen filled a pot with gasoline, poured it on Hawkins as he slept, then lit it twice, using a match after a cigarette failed to fully ignite the gasoline. He then chased the burning Hawkins from the house, before fleeing from the home himself. City police arrested him two days later.
The 59-year-old Hawkins ran to a neighboring house for help. Paramedics flew Hawkins to Westchester Medical Center’s burn unit, where he later died.
When investigators caught up with Leppanen, he eventually told them of animosity he had with Hawkins, Tremante-Pelham has said. He felt demeaned by Hawkins, despised him and believed he was evil, Tremante-Pelham said said during the trial.
Though Hawkins was Leppanen’s stepfather, he raised Leppanen from the age of 2, according to family members.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.
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Categories: News, Schenectady County