Michael Briggs, the man who admitted killing former nun Mary Greco, was sentenced to 30 years to life in prison Friday.
“I’m here to tell you that this community is enraged as to what you did to Mary Greco,” Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago told Briggs.
In victim-impact statements, Greco’s relatives described her as a kind and religious woman who regularly helped others, including people in the Central American country of Guatemala.
“I’m sure my sister would have gladly given Michael Briggs anything he felt he needed or wanted,” Greco’s sister Theresa Ciesones told the court in a letter. “Instead he tried to steal from her and then took her life in a relentless, savage act of murder. He now will have the rest of his life to think about the brutality of his crime.”
Ciesones also said she believes Briggs deserves the death penalty, “and it’s unfortunate the state of New York does not have one.”
Briggs, 38, pleaded guilty in March to second-degree murder and attempted burglary, admitting to killing Greco in December 2012.
Greco’s body was discovered in her Stanford Street apartment Jan. 1, 2013. Prosecutors credited excellent police work in closing the case.
It was a brutal crime against a giving woman, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said. Briggs choked her and attacked her with a knife. Greco, Carney said, sustained “extensive defensive wounds on her 82-year-old hands.”
Greco had accepted Briggs’ offer to shovel her driveway after one snowstorm, paying him and giving him cookies. The attack happened days later, after a second storm. A bag of pastries was found near her body.
After the first storm, Greco called a sister and told her of the man with a “nice face.”
“We lost our sister because she was too trusting of people with nice faces,” Greco’s sister Carmela Diehsner wrote in her statement. “I don’t know where she saw a nice face in you; it was the biggest mistake she ever made.”
In court Friday, Carney outlined the evidence to refute any notion from Briggs that he wasn’t involved. Briggs had tried to withdraw his plea, claiming innocence. That attempt was denied.
Carney said there was evidence Briggs tried to trade for marijuana a rosary that had been presented to Greco only days earlier. The rosary was never found.
“That’s why he pleaded guilty,” Carney said of the evidence, “because he is guilty.”
But Briggs renewed his claims of innocence.
“It’s sad that the woman passed away, but it’s a murder I’m not responsible for,” Briggs said. “I’m innocent, and I look forward to my appeal.”
Drago, in remarks immediately following Briggs spoke, made it clear she agreed with Carney.
“The evidence is overwhelming that you committed this crime,” Drago told Briggs.
Drago noted, as did Carney, Briggs’ criminal history, which also includes attacks on 12- and 13-year-old boys on Long Island in the 1990s. One of those attacks involved a sex crime.
Drago said those acts are consistent with someone who would attack an 82-year-old woman.
“Those are the acts of a coward,” Drago told Briggs. “Those are the acts of a bully. And I have to agree with Mr. Carney that there is no room in this or any community for people like you.”
In her statement to the court, Diehsner recalled Greco as a woman who never spent money on herself. Instead, she saved it to send to Guatemala, where she sponsored children and adults and often made trips to support that work.
“I want you to know the person that you were so quick to take from this world,” Diehsner wrote to Briggs. “I want you to know Mary Stella, my sister, a caring person.
“I hope when you go to prison you see her in your sleep every night, my sister, the woman that you have killed and taken from not only my family and I, but from those in Guatemala.”
Ciesones closed out her statement by noting she considers herself a religious person.
“But,” Ciesones concluded, “I cannot find it in my heart at this time to forgive the defendant. My hope is that he will receive his just punishment in prison. May he never see the light of day again in his lifetime and I hope in time I will be able to forgive the horrible injustice done to my sister.”