John Harold Luebbers, 45, the man found guilty of the slaying of Louisiana Schnell School Principal Sam LaCara, was sentenced to 50-years-to-life in prison Friday afternoon.
Luebbers was met with a packed courtroom, many wearing a white shirt emblazoned with “Schnell School Spring Walk-a-thon 2011.”
LaCara’s widow, Lisa, was first to come to the podium to read a victim impact statement.
“It’s pointless to put into words … the nightmare I and my daughters have lived,” she said, speaking of the “murder and betrayal” committed by Luebbers. The situation made her “feel that my daughters and I do not exist.”
As Luebbers had been a friend, even golfing with LaCara a few days prior to his murder, Lisa LaCara said that “nothing is as repulsive or despicable as betrayal.”
She said, “Every choice in life has a consequence. He killed my husband, and, while the Bible prescribes death, he deserves life behind bars, never to see the sunlight.”
A statement was then read by LaCara’s older sister, Lynn Centofanto, who affectionately wrote of “Sammy” and growing up with him. She stated that when he was young, he treated all the children he played with the same, in a kind way, and that she “should have known my brother, Sam, would become a teacher.”
Although Centofanto’s boyfriend at the time accidentally pinned LaCara between a car and a garage when they were teenagers, breaking both his legs and possibly preventing him from ever playing sports, Centofanto never once heard her brother ask, “Why me?”
She wrote that after their father passed, LaCara handled their mother’s finances and banking, which gave hope to their mother. “He was a rock,” she stated.
She recalled that LaCara was always “helping neighbors and children.”
“He’s not a saint,” she stated, “but he helped people immensely.”
After LaCara’s murder, Centofanto’s mother, who now suffers from Alzheimer’s, and other sister moved from Sacramento to Alabama, unable to cope with the grief.
“I do not understand how anyone could have murdered him,” she wrote, hoping the court would pursue a sentence of “Life in prision,” as well as restitution for the funeral and the relocation of her mother and sister.
Judge James R. Wagoner then silently read a letter Luebbers submitted to the court before scheduling June 29 at 1:30 p.m. for a restitution hearing.
He then read off the factors of the sentencing, including that LaCara had been vulnerable because Luebbers had been “engaging the victim on the telephone” when he entered LaCara’s office to shoot him, that the manner of the murder “indicates at least some planning,” and that the “defendant took advantage of a position of trust,” being both an employee and friend of LaCara’s. He also called Luebbers a “serious danger to society,” but noted that Luebbers admitted to the killing while he was being arrested, and had an “early acknowledgement of wrongdoing.”
Wagoner then sentenced Luebbers to 25-years-to-life on the first count, first-degree murder, and an additional, consecutive 25-years-to-life for the use of a handgun, for a total of 50-years-to-life in prison. He will get credit for 500 days already served. At the end of his term, he will be eligible for lifelong parole.
Joy Fausel, a secretary who was in the office when LaCara was shot and who testified during the trial, when asked whether justice had been served, said, “Yeah, I hope so.” She said she would “need to move on” now.
Dawn Cooper, who was with LaCara in his final moments and also testified during the trial, said she was “hoping it’s over.” She, too, believed that justice had been served.”I think that since he has to serve 50 years before parole, it gives him a good, long time to sit in prison and think about what he’s done,” she said. “Sam was a good man who touched a lot of hearts and souls, mine being one of them.”