Benjamin Cayea was sentenced to 22-year-to-life in prison Monday morning. (Photo by Jolene Almendarez)

ITHACA, N.Y. — A man convicted of killing his Cornell student girlfriend was sentenced to 22 years to life in prison Monday morning.

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Benjamin Cayea, 33, was convicted on Oct. 22 of second-degree murder for the death of Shannon Jones. He killed her on Thanksgiving last year at their Cayuga Heights apartment.

“This self-serving, monstrous murderer took her away,” Assistant District Attorney Diane Lama read in a victim impact statement written by Jone’s mother, Olcay Jones. She declined to appear at the sentencing.

Benjamin Cayea was sentenced to 22-year-to-life in prison Monday morning. (Photo by Jolene Almendarez)

Lama read for Olcay Jones in court, “The truth is, I had to pick the site for her final resting place by myself…I go there every week to take her flowers and to be with her.”

Olcay Jones said the life she knew is over and the future she imagine for her daughter — falling in love, having children, growing old — was taken away “just like turning a light switch — for no reason at all.”

Jones said she bought her daughter a white dress for her viewing, and was reminded of the same white dress her daughter wore as a baby 23-years ago.

The people Shannon Jones left behind — a brother, grandparents, family members and friends — stand with her mother who said, “We are angry. We are outraged. We feel disgusted and violated.”

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Bonavia said during sentencing, “This is the face of domestic violence.”

He told Judge Joseph Cassidy that he was recommending a 25-year-to-life sentence for Benjamin Cayea, who he says did not take responsibility for killing Jones, and lied for nearly a year about how the murder happened in order to save himself.

“The man your sentencing, he murdered Shannon twice,” Bonavia said.

Cayea’s attorney Matt Van Houten said his client never intended to harm Jones’ memory during the trial, but needed to tell the court the truth about what happened the night she died.

“I would respectfully submit that as the prosecution sees this case, they see it as a black and white; there is  a good guy, there is a bad guy. That’s not the case,” Van Houten said.

During a 4-day trial, two versions of a story were told: one where Cayea accidentally choked his girlfriend during a consensual sex act and another where he brutally strangled her in a fit of rage.

Related — Guilty: Cayea faces 15-to-life for murder of Cornell student

Cayea said in a statement before being sentenced, “I’ll always love her and even though I did not intend any harm upon her, I fully accept that I am responsible for her death.”

“Whenever I close my eyes, she’s there. I will never stop thinking about this. She will be on my mind until the day I die,” he said.

Van Houten asked Judge Cassidy to sentence Cayea to the minimum of 15-year-to-life in prison.

Jurors convicted Cayea, who never denied choking Jones, of the murder charge instead of manslaughter, their other option. He would have faced a prison sentence of five to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.

Related — Jurors given option to convict on manslaughter or murder

Cassidy said before sentencing that he’d thought a long time about the sentence and takes into account the fact that Cayea told police what happened directly after he killed Jones.

However, he said there was “inescapable certainty” that Cayea continued to strangle Jones after she was unconscious and then did nothing to try to revive her or call for help.

He sentenced Cayea to 22-years-to-life in prison.

Cayea’s attorney Matt Van Houten previously said he will appeal the case after sentencing, saying that there were some evidentiary rulings that worked against his ability to corroborate Cayea’s testimony that Jones’ death was an accident.


Round-up of previous coverage

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Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.