25 years behind bars

BUFFALO – A 23-year-old Cattaraugus Indian Reservation man will spend 25 years in prison and another five years of post-release supervision for stabbing his half-brother to death in July 2012.

Cody R. Testerman’s sentencing took place Thursday morning at Erie County Court in front of Supreme Court Justice M. William Boller. Testerman, initially charged with second-degree murder, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter last year for stabbing 20-year-old Jesse Seneca, also of the reservation, 22 times, mainly in the back of the neck, killing him.

“Your attorney says he doesn’t think you deserve 25 years, but killing your half-brother? Breaking the hearts of your family? Sir, I do believe you deserve 25 years,” Boller told Testerman. “Because of the good efforts of your attorney (for securing a plea deal), you’re probably not getting 25 to life (the maximum if convicted after a trial), so at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel, something your victim doesn’t have.”

This sentence follows on the heels of the first sentencing in the case, which took place last week in front of Buffalo Supreme Court Justice Penny Wolfgang. Seneca’s 19-year-old ex-girlfriend, formerly of Silver Creek, was handed down one to three years behind bars for second-degree conspiracy and one to three years each for two counts of first-degree hindering prosecution. Her sentences run concurrently.

The female pleaded guilty to the charges in late February. She was indicted in December after being extradited from Arizona, where she moved after the incident.

The co-conspirator’s name was withheld by the court since Wolfgang granted her request of youthful offender status, thus limiting the amount of jail time she could receive. She was 18 when she helped bury Seneca’s body, hid evidence and provided false testimony to both police and Seneca’s family, according to Erie County Assistant District Attorney Gary Hackbush.

Testerman spoke directly to his and Seneca’s family members, who were seated in the audience. Some wore T-shirts with a picture of Seneca’s face and the words “Justice for Jess” emblazoned on them.

“I know I’m viewed as a monster, and that I don’t deserve your forgiveness,” Testerman said while fighting back tears. “What I did was irreversible, and I can’t rectify anything. I don’t know what more I can say, other than I’m sorry.”

“You’re lying,” one audience member said.

“Why’d you do it, Cody?” another one asked.

Testerman then opened up about a love triangle that drove him to do what he did.

“I was just so sick of being lonely and I hated being used,” he replied, referring to a hard breakup he had sometime before the killing. “I had no friends. I didn’t feel loved by my own family. I didn’t belong to anyone. (The female co-conspirator) promised me a new life. She told me about Jesse’s evils, and I believed her.”

Defense attorney Andrew LoTempio told Boller this was one of the most bizarre cases he ever handled, in part due to the circumstances surrounding the love triangle initiated by the female, who LoTempio referred to as the “mastermind” behind Seneca’s death.

“Mr. Testerman is soft-spoken and, from accounts from family members, somewhat gentle,” he said. “Mr. Seneca broke up with (the female co-conspirator) and she was angry. She purposely seduced Mr. Testerman. He was astonished she was even paying attention to him. She convinced Mr. Testerman she was madly in love with him.”

LoTempio went on to explain the woman convinced Testerman that Seneca was abusing her and physically beating her, which he said was most likely false. She succeeded in working Testerman up into a frenzy.

“She convinced him he should play a role in attacking Mr. Seneca, and she actually set that episode up,” LoTempio said. “Mr. Testerman got carried away and lost control of himself, taking his half-brother’s life.”

The woman apparently told Testerman afterward she would help him run away, but “stabbed him in the back” and left for Arizona by herself, according to LoTempio.

“When I was a kid, there was an old saying: If someone told you to jump off a bridge, you don’t jump off the bridge,” Boller told Testerman after the love triangle came up.

While the case may officially be closed at this point, many of Seneca’s relatives believe the court system failed their beloved family member.

“I had all the hope in the world that (the female co-conspirator) was going to be sentenced as an adult, and she wasn’t,” Neasa Seneca, Jesse’s sister, said after the sentencing. “I felt like our family was used and abused. Her attorney blamed our family and he blamed Jesse, when nothing could be further from the truth. (The woman) got involved in a love triangle for the very purpose of ending my brother’s life, and she only got a slap on the hand for what she did.”

Neasa wanted to thank Boller for a smoother sentencing than the one for the woman under Wolfgang’s court. She also said Testerman’s apology, even though he sent letters to her after the killing, meant nothing to her family.

“Our family knows what Cody did was wrong, but at least he has expressed to me that he feels sorry and he feels remorse; even if that is a lie, at least he thinks about it and that he knows his brother, my brother, Jesse Seneca, loved him unconditionally, and he took Jesse’s love away from himself, too,” Neasa told Boller.

“We had to find our dead son,” Robin Seneca, Jesse’s mother, said. “This little girl got away with her hands slapped. She did all this and she got youth offender status for my kid getting stabbed 22 times. Jesse suffered under these two, who were not drinking and who were sober. We lost somebody dear and precious and loved and treasured. This hurts.”

Shannon Elliott, Jesse Seneca’s aunt, said Testerman deserved life in prison for what he did.

“It was a brutal murder for no reason,” she added. “Jesse was the kindest, sweetest person. There is no justice here.”

Seneca’s body was found near a dirt road off Brant Reservation Road on the reservation. Hackbush previously stated the woman and Testerman drove to Seneca’s home the night before the killing. Testerman left the house early the next morning with Seneca and subsequently stabbed him to death in an open field.

Seneca attended school at Silver Creek Central.

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