MILWAUKEE (AP) — A 51-year-old man who waited more than three decades to confess he killed a 13-year-old girl was sentenced Friday to seven years in prison, the maximum a judge could impose.
Jose E. Ferreira's sentence came almost 35 years to the day after he shoved Carrie Ann Jopek down a flight of stairs at a Milwaukee home on March 16, 1982. Police questioned him several times over the years, but it wasn't until late 2015 that he confessed to his wife, a local television station and a police detective.
"I can't take back how it happened," Ferreira said in a soft voice before he was sentenced by Judge Jeffrey Conen. "Sorry, from the deepest pain in my heart, sorry."
Throughout Friday's hearing, Jopek's mother held a picture on her lap of her daughter when she was 13. She also held the photo when she faced the judge to speak before the sentencing, as Ferreira sat with his head down a few feet away, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.
"He's still alive. Carrie's gone. They only time I'll see her again is in heaven," Caroyln Tousignant said.
Jopek had been suspended from school on the day of her death because she was walking the halls without a pass. That afternoon, she went to a friend's house where several other teenagers were drinking.
Ferreira, who was 16 at the time, told police that he and Jopek were going to the basement and he assumed they were going to make out. But Jopek expressed reservations at the foot of the stairs, and that's when Ferreira pushed her, according to the account he gave detectives.
He said he initially thought Jopek was unconscious, so he began fondling her before realizing her neck was broken. He took her body to the rear porch of the house, where 17 months later a carpenter found her while doing some remodeling. Jopek was still wearing a coat and high-top sneakers.
Tousignant said she didn't buy Ferreira's apology. She believes her daughter has been haunting him this whole time.
"That girl was very persistent," her mother said. She said she wished Ferreira's sentence was longer but was grateful for closure.
Despite Ferreira's confession, he initially pleaded not guilty to second-degree homicide. But just as attorneys were about to select a jury for his trial in January, he struck a deal with prosecutors, saying at the time: "I just want this over and done with."
He pleaded guilty to reduced charges of attempted second-degree sexual assault and false imprisonment.
Assistant District Attorney Karl Hayes acknowledged the case would've been difficult to prosecute, saying there was "a paucity of evidence" and that there are questions about what happened that will never be answered.
He referred to Ferreira as a "pathetic individual" who posed no danger to the public anymore.
He and Ferreira's attorney painted a picture of a man who led a tortured life, having brushes with the law over the years and suffering from mental illnesses. He was drinking heavily before he confessed.
"Mr. Ferreira had hit a wall, sort of a rock bottom," Hayes said.
This story has been corrected to show that Ferreira's age is 51, not 53.
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