12/24/2013 11:50:00 AM Man gets 50 years in murder-for-hire case
By MIKE VAN DORN Daily News
Tyler R. McQueen, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and wearing a bullet-proof vest, showed no emotion Friday afternoon as Judge Robert Hopkins handed down a sentence that will keep him behind bars for more 50 years.
The Lawrence County Circuit Court sentencing came more than seven months after the 22-year-old was convicted of first-degree murder in the March 24, 2012, slaying of 78-year-old Robert V. Westall.
Included among the 25 or so people who were in court to watch the culmination of an ordeal that spanned almost two years, was the widow of Robert Westall and two of his three adult children. Also in the courtroom was McQueen's mother, father and brother.
McQueen has been housed in Lawrence County Jail since his arrest in late March, about a week after the crime was committed. He will remain in Lawrenceville until after a ruling on a Jan. 3 post-trial motion, filed Friday by his court-appointed attorney, Matthew Vaughn. Vaughn filed a motion for a new trial and a motion to vacate the jury verdict, a customary course of action in a murder trial.
Lawrence County State's Attorney Chris Quick said he and special prosecutor Michael Vujovich were happy with the verdict.
"Certainly we're pleased the judge has given justice to the Westall family. And Tyler McQueen will not be eligible for parole. He will serve all 50 years, with three years parole after that," Quick said, noting that McQueen will be 72 years old before he gets out of prison.
The sentence could have even been even more severe.
"He could have gotten up to natural life, and we did ask for 78 years, which is how old Mr. Westall was when he was murdered, but we understand that the judge takes into considerations both aggravating and mitigating factors, so that was the number that Judge Hopkins came up with and we think that's fair," Quick said.
During the sentencing, Vaughn asked for the minimum of 20 years for his client.
The sentencing hearing lasted about 3 1/2 hours with four victim impact statements being read.
Karen Westall, Robert Westall's widow, and the couple's three children - Charles, Spencer and Veronica Westall - read statements to the court regarding how the death of their husband and father has affected their lives.
Addressing McQueen, Karen Westall said, "I will never understand how you can viciously murder someone you did not know."
She noted that she can't prepare a meal using a knife without thinking about how her husband was stabbed 33 times. Karen Westall also noted that McQueen showed no remorse during the pre-trial and trial, often "smiling from ear to ear."
"I hope your life ends the same way Bob's did, in a prison cell while you are asleep," Karen Westall said. Robert Westall was attacked while sleeping in an apartment in Lawrenceville.
The letter from Charles Westall, a member of the U.S. Marine Corp, is presently stationed in Japan. Vujovich read his impact statement.
Charles Westall recounted finding out about his father's death while in the middle of a combat deployment in Afghanistan. He called the killing a "purely evil act," and "your cowardly act."
He also talked about McQueen smiling to family and friends during an early pre-trial hearing.
Spencer Westall said his father did not deserve to die and noted, "I'll never feel completely safe in my own home again." He also said his son, Jonathan, will never know his grandfather.
The final impact statement came from Veronica Westall. She said for more than a year she cried every day, and that she never had a chance to say her last good-byes.
She and her brother, Spencer, said they wanted McQueen to receive the maximum sentence.
For the defense, Vaughn called Karen McQueen, Tyler McQueen's mother, to the stand, as well as his brother, Ethan McQueen. Family friend Walter Gerber was called as well as Dr. Daniel J. Cuneo, a psychologist who said he works primarily with the court system.
Karen McQueen, a 54-year-old Lawrence County resident, talked about some of the difficulties raising her son, Tyler. She talked about how her husband, Nick, was a recovering alcoholic and how he started to drink again when Tyler was 16. Karen McQueen explained that it had a negative impact on Tyler.
"When drinking, Nick wasn't there when Tyler needed him," Karen McQueen said.
Much of Karen McQueen's testimony dealt with the impact the death of her oldest son had on Tyler. Sean McQueen, who was six years older than Tyler, was killed in a motorcycle accident on May 19, 2011.
Karen McQueen said Tyler was devastated by the death of his brother, who she said he had always looked to for guidance.
Ethan McQueen said he believed Tyler took Sean's death the hardest.
"Growing up, Sean was Tyler's idol," Ethan McQueen said. "He just didn't care anymore about himself."
Gerber described Tyler McQueen as a typical, happy kid when he was young. He said Tyler changed after Sean's death.
"Tyler was withdrawn, depressed after Sean's death and didn't care about normal day-to-day functions."
Cuneo, who provides contract services with state agencies by performing risk assessments, said he evaluated Tyler McQueen for 2 1/2 hours on Aug. 16. He also reviewed the DVD of a police interview with McQueen, as well as other documents and mental health evaluations.
Prior to handing down his sentence, Hopkins described all the factors he was taking into consideration such as the planned natures of the offense as well as that another person had helped facilitate the crime.
If, on Jan. 3, Hopkins does not grant Vaughn's motion for a new trial and to vacate the jury's May verdict, McQueen will be transferred to a maximum security prison, likely someplace in northern Illinois.