File photo Sixteen-year-old Matthew Phelps is pictured exiting the Montgomery County Courthouse in January after an arraignment. Phelps on Wednesday pleaded guilty to murdering Amsterdam teens Paul Damphier and Jonathan DeJesus.
By HEATHER NELLIS
Recorder News Staff
FONDA -- As 16-year-old Matthew Phelps stood before acting Judge Polly Hoye Wednesday in the Montgomery County Courtroom, she asked him whether he was guilty of murdering 13-year-old Jonathan DeJesus and 16-year-old Paul Damphier on July 9, 2012.
Phelps mouthed something to Hoye, but she couldn't hear him. She asked him to repeat himself, but he was still too quiet to hear.
"I'm sorry, I can't hear you," Hoye said, insisting an answer for a third time.
"Guilty," he said, his voice barely audible above the loud whir of an air conditioner.
Bridget Masesie's face showed her pain; her eyes welled at the thought of the gruesome act against her son, Jonathan.
"It made it so real," Masesie said, reflecting on Phelps' admission. "My baby is gone, and I'll never get him back."
Sandra Damphier, Paul's mom, wept in the arms of a loved one during the hearing. When she heard Phelps admit to killing her son, she said, "I wanted to put a bullet in the back of his head. He doesn't deserve to breathe."
Phelps accepted the terms of a plea bargain in connection with an eight count indictment handed up in December 2012. He pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, the most serious charges.
In addition to waiving his right to appeal, Phelps agreed to testify against Amsterdam teen Anthony Brasmeister, his alleged colluder.
Brasmeister's trial is still set for June. He's represented by Joseph McCoy.
Both teens originally pleaded not guilty to the crime, and would have been tried together, as they were named in a single indictment.
Under the terms of the plea, Phelps faces between 15 years to life in prison when he's sentenced July 11.
"No one can promise you when you would be released," Hoye told Phelps.
Had he been convicted at trial, he would have faced consecutive sentences of 15 years to life for each count, for a minimum of 30 years, said District Attorney James E. "Jed" Conboy.
Masesie said she consented to the plea bargain.
"No time will ever be enough, but they did as much as they could," she said. "Had we gone through the trial, he would have gotten more time, but I'm grateful me and Paul's mom were spared the heartache. We've been through so much already."
Conboy said the plea was negotiated during a conference with Phelps and his Attorney Robert Abdella of Gloversville.
"I told them any plea would have to be for two counts of second-degree murder," Conboy said. "I told him if he would cooperate in the case against Brasmeister, his sentence would be 15 years to life. That was apparently acceptable."
The weapons charge pressed against Phelps was also dropped.
Should Phelps opt against cooperating with authorities in the future in their prosecution against Brasmeister, the deal would be off, Conboy said.
Brasmeister faces 25 years to life for each victim if convicted at trial, Conboy said.
When Hoye scheduled Phelps' sentence hearing, she originally set it for July 9, the one-year anniversary of the crime.
"It was like slap in the face," one family member said.
Hoye, the Fulton County judge assigned to the case, instead set it for two days later.
Conboy estimated the shooting incident took place sometime in the early evening of July 9. He said the cause of death was related to gunshot wounds, and the victims were identified by their dental records.
The boys were missing 10 days before authorities received a tip about human remains found in the field near Phelps' home. An Amber Alert was never issued in connection with the boys' disappearance, which were reported by their mothers the next day, but police said the case didn't meet the criteria.
In a previous interview, Conboy said two .22 caliber rifles were examined by an ammunition identification expert in connection with the case. One was recovered from Phelps' grandparents' home on Snooks Corners Road home in the town of Florida, the other from Brasmeister's father's home.
Three of the four involved in the incident were classmates -- Greater Amsterdam School District Superintendent Thomas Perillo in late July confirmed Damphier, DeJesus and Brasmeister were all students of the district, but Phelps was not.
Conboy said Phelps lived with his mother in the state of Florida but had been staying with his grandparents for the summer.
Because Brasmeister's trial is pending, Conboy said he can't discuss a motive or any other evidence at this time.
"It was all for nothing -- he killed my son for nothing," Sandra Damphier said outside the courthouse, wearing a T-shirt printed to honor of her fallen son. "He has no idea what he's done to me."
The pain of the experience was enough for Masesie to move out of Amsterdam, but she said she's proud of the efforts the city has undertaken to be more supportive of its youth. A recreation center was started at the former Clara S. Bacon elementary school, and an arts center on East Main Street.
"Whether or not their names are on it, they're doing it for Paul and Jonathan," Masesie said.
Masesie also thinks there was something to be learned from the situation about people's responsibility of their weapons.
"People who have guns should watch where they are," she said. "I don't understand how these kids could get a hold of these guns. If they didn't have access to them, we wouldn't be here right now."