The Rotterdam man who admitted killing his former girlfriend and her mother in April was sentenced Tuesday to the maximum allowed under his plea bargain — 45 years to life in prison.
The sentence imposed upon 29-year-old Brice Rivenburgh reflects consecutive sentences of 23 years to life for the killing of Jessica McCormack and 22 years to life for the killing of her mother, Tammy.
Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago handed down the sentences after a lengthy proceeding during which statements were read from seven family members of those killed. The speakers remembered the lives of the women killed and the great and unending impact that the deaths have had on those who loved them.
Among the family members who spoke were Brad and Marie McCormack, the surviving children of Tammy McCormack, 52, and siblings of Jessica McCormack, 22.
“Your honor, when you just look at it, two lives ended on that day in April,” Brad McCormack told Drago in asking for the maximum. “But, in reality, a number of people, including my sister and I, had a chunk of our lives taken, too.”
The impact was evident in a courtroom gallery filled with more than 50 family members and friends of the women, many of whom could be seen wiping tears from their eyes as the family members spoke.
Rivenburgh admitted in court last month that he killed both women the morning of April 10 at the McCormacks’ 1142 Inner Drive home in Rotterdam. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder.
In exchange for his plea, he accepted a possible sentence of between 35 and 45 years to life, rejecting a definitive sentence of 40 years to life.
But Drago handed down the maximum possible sentence after hearing from the family, attorneys and Rivenburgh himself.
In addition to the murders, Rivenburgh was accused of raping his former girlfriend and then trying to cover up his crime by planting false evidence and even trying to burn down the McCormack’s home.
Prosecutor Philip Mueller detailed the prosecution’s timeline of events, from months before the killings through that morning.
Mueller also questioned Rivenburgh’s own post-guilty plea account of the killings, in which he suggested he killed the women to keep them from discovering he had stolen a television. Drago called Rivenburgh’s account of the murders “offensive to the court.”
Rivenburgh was a self-absorbed loner, dependent on others and alcohol, Mueller said. The women he killed were the furthest from being like him, Mueller added.
“I cannot imagine a more stark contrast between the negative, self-absorbed defendant and the positive, productive lives that he snuffed out,” Mueller said.
The portrait, Mueller argued, showed a man who manipulated Jessica McCormack for months, stole from her and then killed her and her mother.
Her family had turned against Rivenburgh over theft allegations from the previous summer. Jessica McCormack finally broke off the relationship shortly before she and her mother were killed.
For his part, Rivenburgh apologized, saying he had no answers as to why it happened.
“I apologize to the McCormack family from the bottom of my heart,” Rivenburgh said. “I am truly sorry. This is not an apology of a man who is sorry about the sentence he’s facing or whatever some may say. It is an apology of a man who never intended to hurt anyone.”
He also professed to still love Jessica McCormack.
In her own comments, Drago said Rivenburgh’s relationship with Jessica McCormack was one of domestic violence and emotional abuse.
“The court cannot fathom how you could profess to love a woman, yet you perpetrated emotional abuse on her time and time again,” Drago said.
“I won’t even comment on whether or not you have a conscience, because I don’t have the expertise,” Drago told Rivenburgh. “But what I can comment on is I see someone who is so seething, so shameless, so devoid of any morality, because that is the only rational notion that I can come up with to try and figure out what motivated you to do what you did during those hours.”
The sentence handed out by Drago means Rivenburgh will be eligible for parole in 2058, when he is 73.
During her comments, Marie McCormack remembered her mother as a pillar of the community, someone whose greatest attribute was to make others feel loved and welcomed.
“I cannot possibly put into words the amazing person she was,” Marie McCormack said of her mother. “If my mom were to walk into this room right now, we would all instantly feel her love and her warmth.”
She recalled her sister as a bright and beautiful soul, someone who worked two jobs while attending college.
She was also a young woman who looked forward one day, far in the future, to getting married. She had already begun saving for her perfect dress, Marie recalled.
“Now, I will never get to go shopping with her for that perfect dress,” Marie told the court. “I won’t ever get to be her maid of honor. I’ll never see her get married.
“She was so young. She had her whole life ahead of her. Her life was full of promise. She had barely begun to live.”