One year and two days after they murdered two Amsterdam boys, Matt Phelps and Anthony Brasmeister were handed sentences that could put them behind bars for the rest of their lives.
The two teenagers stood in turn before acting Montgomery County Court Judge Polly Hoye on Thursday afternoon. Phelps, who police said at the time was the trigger man, shooting Paul Damphier, 16, and Jonathan DeJesus, 13, in a soybean field behind Phelps’ home on July 9, 2012, received two concurrent terms of 15 years to life.
Brasmeister received two concurrent terms of 25 years to life.
Though both were charged as adults, Hoye referred to Phelps during the sentencing as a junior offender, being just 15 at the time of the murders. Brasmeister was 16.
Before the sentencing both young men sat with their lawyers, listening to statements from their victims’ still-grieving relatives. Phelps wore a dark suit over his shackles.
Brasmeister, clad in jailhouse orange, looked at the table as Nicole Damphier recounted childhood Christmases spent with her brother.
“He used to shake each box to see what was inside,” she said. “Anthony, my brother trusted you, and he never saw it coming.”
Police and prosecutors have kept many details of the investigation confidential since it began. Previously unreported details were disclosed by family members Thursday as they addressed the court; Montgomery County District Attorney James “Jed” Conboy could not be reached afterward to verify or comment on the assertions.
Laura Lewis said her 13-year-old nephew’s hands were found cut off and stored in a plastic bag and said Phelps returned days after the shooting to dismember the body.
“The only relief I feel is that one day you will stand before God,” she said, “and he will cast you into hell.”
Bridget Masesie, DeJesus’s mother, said the two murderers brought some of their friends out to the scene before police found the bodies, showing off their handiwork.
“The only reason they were ever found was one person they showed was so disturbed by what he saw that he told [an adult],” she said.
Masesie and Sandre Damphier, Paul’s mother, both said Amsterdam police initially were not interested in investigating the boys’ disappearance as a missing persons case. For days after the boys went missing, family members were left to put up flyers by themselves, they said.
“[Officers] said my son was a runaway and didn’t want to be found,” Damphier said, adding that the lack of police effort to find her dark-skinned son showed a certain degree of racism.
As each family member spoke, composing themselves before microphones, others in the crowded courtroom sobbed aloud.
Phelps and Brasmeister each would be eligible for parole after serving their minimum sentences. The victims’ family members, though, were bent on permanent incarceration.
Masesie and Damphier both vowed to be present at every parole hearing to lobby for justice. According to Hoye, the parents needn’t worry much about early release; she pointed out parole boards will be unlikely to look kindly on Phelps and Brasmeister given the heinous nature of their crimes.
Few relatives of Phelps and Brasmeister were in attendance and none chose to speak in court. Brasmeister’s lawyer, Joseph McCoy, apologized on behalf of his client.
Robert Abdella, Phelps’ lawyer, asked witnesses to judge his client separately from the Phelps family.
Outside, family and friends of the victims milled around in the afternoon sun, talking to reporters. In the courtroom, many said no ruling could bring back their loved ones, but outside, the tone was one of relief.
“I would have wished for long [sentences],” Masesie said, “but they could always get life.”