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Benvenuto sentenced to life term

"Jorge, you deserve to die."

With those words, Ron Snarr summed up his family's feeling toward Jorge Benvenuto, the man who admitted killing Snarr's son and wounding his son's friend 17 months ago in a thrill killing.But Benvenuto will not die for the killings. He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison - without the possibility of parole. He said nothing during his sentencing Friday morning in 3rd District Court, standing impassively for nearly an hour as friends and family of victims Zachary Snarr and Yvette Rodier Evans recounted how their lives have been torn apart.

Benvenuto, 20, pleaded guilty to capital murder in the Aug. 28, 1996, fatal shooting of Zach Snarr, 18, and guilty to attempted murder in the wounding of Rodier, now 19.

He admitted approaching them that night as they photographed the full moon rising above the waters of Little Dell Reservoir, talking to them to put them at ease, then shooting them.

Rodier, since married, said fear and pain rule her life now. She's afraid of the dark, afraid of the full moon, startled by gunshots on television and can't be left alone or go back into the mountains, she testified Friday.

She's had five operations on her head, and her body is heavily scarred from the three bullets Benvenuto fired into her with a .357-caliber handgun.

And, Rodier said, she has vivid memories of lying on the ground, wounded, waiting while Benvenuto reloaded the gun.

"There's nothing I've ever forgotten," she said, describing the sounds and even smells of gunsmoke from that night, the events replaying in her mind like a videotape.

"I knew when he stopped to reload that it was me he was trying to kill, and that's a horrible pain," Rodier said. She also feels guilty that she was unable to help Zach Snarr, whom investigators said died instantly of a head wound.

"I have survivor's guilt, I feel guilty because I lived and Zach didn't," Rodier said. "I feel guilty because I didn't hold his wounds, I didn't hold him tight.

"But I'm alive. I'm lucky, I will wake up tomorrow morning and Zach never will."

Rodier, unable to feel her legs or the blood streaming down her face from a head wound, crawled 265 feet up a rocky, brambled mountainside after the shooting to summon help, an act prosecutor Bob Stott said has made her his hero.

Stott said the shooting pushed the Snarr family into "the pits of hell" and the family is slowly inching its way back, climbing up its own mountain.

Mother Sy Snarr said the family still suffers from anger, pain and bitterness from Benvenuto's senseless and cold-blooded act.

"My son was murdered because someone wanted to know what it felt like to murder someone, to see what it felt like to watch someone die," she said.

"On Aug. 28, 1996, my life was shattered. I've always said my children are my life, and I feel a fourth of my life has been ripped away from me.

"It rips me apart to know I will never know Zach's children, my grandchildren," she said, concluding that as his mother, "I would have taken the bullets for Zach. I would have in a heartbeat."

Prosecutors sought the death penalty, Stott said, but now believe the judge's sentence of life in prison without parole is appropriate "so long as it is for sure he will stay in prison."

Judge Anne M. Stirba called the shootings "ruthless and horrifying" and said she has been "humbled in the face of these (victim) comments. They are struggling to the top of the mountain."

The shootings show "an absence of any humanity whatever," Stirba said. "What you did was just shoot these people at random. That may be the most disturbing thing about these crimes."

Stirba sentenced Benvenuto to life without parole for killing Zach Snarr and added a consecutive five years to life term for wounding Rodier. She also assessed restitution of $150,000 for Rodier's medical bills, acknowledging there is little chance it will be paid.

The judge said she will recommend to the Board of Pardons "that you never walk out of the prison."

Benvenuto initially agreed to the plea bargain in October, accepting life in prison without parole to avoid facing the death penalty. He later tried to withdraw his plea but Stirba ruled against him.

Defense attorney Robert Booker, hired by Benvenuto's family after he fired his public defense team, said the case is "a very, very difficult case, a case that offers more questions than answers."

"Jorge Benvenuto very much regrets what went wrong that night," said Booker.