CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A central Pennsylvania man who fatally shot his estranged wife, her new boyfriend and the man's mother will spend the rest of his life in prison under a plea deal that spared him the death penalty and left the victims' families angry Friday.
Kevin Matthew Cleeves apologized to the victims' relatives after admitting to the killings.
"I completely understand why most of you hate me," he said, facing them. "I'm so very sorry for what I did. I wish I could express it more than I can."
Several family members told Franklin County Judge Shawn Meyers they were unhappy with the plea deal, noting that prosecutor Matthew Fogal had previously said he would seek the death penalty.
"The court failed miserably, because the scales of justice are clearly out of balance here," said William Aubele of Pittsburgh, the brother of victim Linda Holma.
Fogal said during the hearing the deal would avoid appeals and mean the Cleeves' young daughter Leia, who witnessed the murders, would not have to testify.
"Any progress she's made, any healing that's occurred, I do not want to disrupt," he said.
Cleeves, 36, shot Holma, Brandi Cleeves and Vincent Luke Santucci Jr. in July, grabbed Leia, then 4 years old, from a parked vehicle and fled, triggering an Amber Alert. Police have said he and Brandi Cleeves had been in a bitter custody dispute.
Cleeves, a support technician at a potato chip company, was captured a day after the July 27 shootings near Youngstown, Ohio. The child was unharmed.
Police said Cleeves confessed in a phone call before he was caught.
Family members said in court that Cleeves shot each victim multiple times, and that he was heard by dispatchers, over Luke Santucci's cellphone, talking to his screaming daughter.
"You, Kevin Cleeves, coldly responded, 'Yes, she is dead,'" said Bianca Santucci, Luke's sister.
"Leia witnessed 22 bullets penetrating her mother, Linda and Luke," Aubele said. "I cannot grasp this — 22 bullets."
Vincent Santucci, Luke's father, said he sometimes wakes up at night crying from dreams about the victims.
He said he heard firsthand from Leia, while trick-or-treating last year, that she remembers the killings.
"'My Daddy killed my Mommy and I saw my Mommy's blood.' Take credit for that, Mr. Cleeves," Santucci said.
Police say Cleeves told them he killed the three after Santucci, 29, told him to leave the property, where he lived with his mother. Authorities say Cleeves killed Santucci first, then shot his wife before killing Holma as she ran toward him.
Santucci and Brandi Cleeves, 25, met while working together at a restaurant in Chambersburg and had been dating a few months. Holma, 55, was a hospital nurse.
Cleeves may not contact any of the victims' relatives, and any contact with Leia before she turns 18 must be cleared by her guardian and others. Luke's father Vince Santucci said Leia is living with her maternal grandfather, who was not in the courtroom.
Cleeves told the victims that he hoped someday they, and God, will forgive him.