Friends and family members of a Boulder woman who worked as a volunteer with convicts and drug addicts honored her memory in court Friday before a judge sentenced her ex-husband to 25 years in prison for murdering her.
"I've lost my finest friend; I've lost my best friend,â said Megan Swan, sister of 36-year-old Laura Swan, who was stabbed to death by Alfred Michael Strauss in the kitchen of their north Boulder home last August.
The victim's mother, Collette Swan, told District Judge D.D. Mallard and a packed courtroom that the death of her daughter - "a champion of the underdogâ - tortures her.
"I cannot get the image out of my head of her lying on the kitchen floor and screaming for help and knowing none would be coming,â she said.
Collette Swan said it has also been difficult reverting to a parenting role - raising the couple's two young sons - as she and her husband move into their 70s.
"I am not their mother, and I can never be,â she said of Tommy, 3, and Mikey, 5, who have been living with their grandparents in Seattle since shortly after their mother was killed.
Laura Swan's relatives and friends asked the judge to give Strauss the maximum sentence allowed under his plea agreement with prosecutors, especially so his sons could get the chance to grow up into young adults before their father would be set free.
Strauss, 46, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month and faced a stay in prison of anywhere from 18 to 32 years.
Several of Strauss' supporters - his aunt, uncle, brother and sister - asked for a lesser sentence from the judge.
Chris Strauss said his brother had led a mostly responsible and honorable life and that his sons should get the chance to see their father sooner rather than later.
"One act, no matter how terrible the consequences, does not define Mike's entire life,â he said.
Strauss took the stand shortly before he was sentenced, apologizing through tears and long pauses to the Swan family, his own family and his two sons.
"Whatever problems we had were insignificant and meaningless compared to what happened,â Strauss said of his long and rocky relationship with his ex-wife, with whom he was trying to reconcile at the time of her murder.
He said he woke up the morning of Aug. 27, 2007, with no inkling that he would stab his ex-wife to death in their north Boulder home later that day. He said they got into several heated arguments and that he reacted to a "very stressful situation.â
Mallard said that because there were enough mitigating factors in Strauss' life - a lack of a criminal record and expressed remorse for his deed - she wouldn't put him away for the maximum term.
The lasting impact of Strauss' rage that day became evident as a stream of people came to the podium to speak before the judge.
Noelle Gilbert, another of Swan's sisters, said the murder constantly haunts her and has caused her such emotional distress that she has had to seek psychological counseling and go on medication to deal with it.
"The ghosts of this horrible tragedy haunt my days and nights,â she said. "I long for the days before I knew what grief really was. I will never be the same carefree, happy mother I once was.â
Whitney Wheeless, Swan's friend, mourned the difficulty the children will have coming to terms with the fact that their father killed their mother.
"My greatest anxiety and sadness is for her sons,â she said.
Swan's father, David, was too sick to attend the sentencing hearing Friday and appeared on videotape. He bemoaned the fact that his grandchildren would never know their mother and that she never got to say good-bye to them.
"How could she know that those dreams would be stamped out by an act of stunning cruelty?â he said. "The boys hardly understand what happened, but someday they will.â