CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thomas Mallo, the 15-year old who admitted to stabbing his elderly neighbor more than 35 times with a pocket knife last year, has been sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Mallo's crime began an investigation that eventually dragged every adult member of his family through the court system and resulted in his younger siblings being removed from the home because the living conditions were so horrid.
But Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Carrie Webster said that terrible environment, which was the site of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, could not explain the horrific murder of 82-year-old Phyllis Jean Phares of Frame Street in June 2009.
She called her sentence, the maximum allowed by law, "an inescapable conclusion."
"Certainly the environment in which you existed and your family existed was a modern day "Deliverance," Webster told Mallo. "But there is nothing in these reports to explain the brutality of that act."
Webster heard lengthy statements from prosecutors, a defense attorney, juvenile counselors, the victim's daughter and Mallo himself. She then took a brief recess before pronouncing her sentence.
Her voice seemed unsteady and wavered slightly as she spoke.
"This should be an easy decision today," she said. "But it never is when you have a tragedy of this proportion and when you have a 15-year-old who killed an 80-some-year-old with the brutality attested.
"This act was violent, depraved, calculated to such a degree that nothing I've read, or seen, or heard explains it," the judge said.
Assistant Prosecutor Maryclaire Akers showed Webster a copy of a photograph police took of Phares as she lay dead in her home. Webster shook her head and let out an audible breath in reaction.
"I hate to be so graphic," Akers said to Webster. "But her head was almost severed. There is no justification for this. There is no understanding this. There is no math class, no English class, no one year with a counselor that fixes this."
Three staffers from the Tiger Morton Juvenile Detention Center in Dunbar had testified that Mallo arrived there just after the murder withdrawn, sullen and having the academic and social skills of a 7-year-old.
But they said he had progressed since then, been an eager learner and had shown no signs of violence. One said he had blossomed "like a butterfly" since he was removed from his home.
Another counselor said he arrived at the facility as an anti-social teenager too uncoordinated and slow to even play games. But now, he said, Mallo plays chess and basketball.
Akers said that progress couldn't erase the cruelty of what he did to Phares, the neighbor he liked and visited often. She asked for the maximum sentence for second-degree murder, the charge he pleaded guilty to.
Mallo appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit and blue Nikes, his ankles shackled. As he was led into the courtroom, he lifted his head to acknowledge his oldest sister, who was seated up front.
Mallo apologized to Phares' family members, who were also in attendance.
"I'm sorry for what happened," he said. "I wish I could go back in time and stop before this happened. I'm really sorry for what happened."