The Buffalo News

Saturday, May 19, 2007

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Altemio C. Sanchez, accompanied by attorney Andrew C. LoTempio, right, pleads guilty in State Supreme Court to being the Bike Path Killer who took the lives of three women and raped several others over the last 26 years. LoTempio said later that Sanchez has animosity toward women stemming from childhood.
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FOR BIKE PATH KILLER, TEARS

A Stunning Climax to 26-Year Case Sanchez admits killing 3 women to avert trial in murders, rapes

By Michael Beebe
Updated: 05/17/07 6:48 AM

 Altemio C. Sanchez — the loving father who coached his sons’ Little League baseball team, kept the best-maintained house in his Cleveland Hill neighborhood in Cheektowaga and was always there to help at home, work or church — has admitted what DNA evidence shows him to be: the Bike Path Killer.

Sanchez, a clearly broken man hobbled by ankle chains as deputies walked him into State Supreme Court on Wednesday, finally owned up to being the man prosecutors say he is: a brutal, coldblooded killer who took the lives of three women and raped several others over the last 26 years.

Sanchez’s confessions, mumbled to State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns through his tears, finally ended the dual life that he has been leading for nearly three decades.

His attorney, Andrew C. LoTempio, told reporters that Sanchez, 49, has a deep-rooted animosity toward women stemming from childhood and an inability to control his impulses. “Much like an alcoholic or drug addict, that’s

when somebody can’t control their impulses,” LoTempio said. “Please don’t take it as me making excuses for him. There is no excuse.”

LoTempio declined to disclose details of Sanchez’s early trauma but said that he had suggested an insanity defense for his client.

In the end, though, faced with the overwhelming evidence against him and wanting to spare his family and victims from a long, sordid trial, Sanchez decided to plead guilty as charged, LoTempio said.

Sanchez, a short, bald man dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, was scheduled for a routine court session dealing with motions for his coming trial.

Instead, he stunned the courtroom as he pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree murder.

His guilty pleas practically guarantee he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. He faces a possible 75 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 2.

Two of those murder counts were for the rape and murder of Linda Yalem, a University at Buffalo student who was killed Sept. 29, 1990, as she trained on the Ellicott Creek bike path for the New York City Marathon.

Before he would accept his guilty pleas, the judge asked Sanchez what he did to each victim.

“I strangled her,” Sanchez said of Yalem as his wife, Kathleen, seated in the second row of the courtroom, holding her brother’s hand, burst into tears.

Sanchez said the same thing about Majane Mazur, whose body was found in November 1992 in a field near Exchange Street.

And as Steven Diver, a University at Buffalo professor, watched from the courtroom’s front row, Sanchez said he strangled Joan Diver last Sept. 29 on the bike path near her Clarence home.

Sanchez previously had denied any involvement in the crimes.

“I don’t know how my DNA got on these women,” he told investigators after his Jan. 15 arrest.

LoTempio said Sanchez decided to plead guilty after they discussed the evidence against him 10 days to two weeks ago.

Deputy District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III told the judge that DNA evidence directly linked Sanchez to Yalem and Mazur. And although Sanchez’s DNA also was found in Diver’s car, prosecutors had planned to show he bought the ligatures used to strangle her.

“Once I spoke with Mr. Sanchez, he decided it would be best for his family and the family of the victims to save them from hearing the details of the case,” LoTempio said. “He is saving his wife and children from hearing those dirty details.”

That explanation sounds self-serving to Gregg McCrary, a former FBI profiler once assigned in Buffalo.

“I think there’s reason to question that,” McCrary said, “because someone like this, who’s done what he’s done, has no compassion for the victims. He’s shown that repeatedly. No one with any compassion or empathy could possibly act like he acted against these victims. So is he doing that to protect them? I’m skeptical of that.”

Some who have survived Sanchez’s attacks said he used a ligature to bring them in and out of consciousness as he raped them.

Sanchez fits the profile of a serial killer, McCrary said, one who thinks he is smarter than the police, the prosecutors and all the forensic scientists trying to put him in prison.

“What we know about narcissists is that they’re hypersensitive to criticism,” McCrary added, “so what he would be forced to face in court are his own failures, the fact they have this airtight evidence. They got him. There’s no running room here.”

McCrary also said that like other serial killers, Sanchez was able to compartmentalize that part of his life so that no one around him, not even his wife or closest friends, suspected him. Why did Sanchez kill?

He was not asked by the judge, and he didn’t say.

LoTempio had no answers, either, but said Sanchez had a troubled childhood.

Sanchez, after coming to Buffalo as a toddler from his native Puerto Rico, lost his father at age 2 when he left home, his lawyer said. Sanchez’s mother had a number of male friends coming to the house, and something traumatic happened to Sanchez when he was 12, LoTempio said.

“When he talks about his mom, he starts bawling,” LoTempio said.

“There are some deep-seated problems in his history, and anyone who does something like this is disturbed,” LoTempio said. “He has family issues and things he saw as a child.”

Sanchez began having “impulses and nasty feelings” around age 12, Lo- Tempio said. Those feelings continued into his adulthood and especially emerged when he was alone during the day after he finished working his job on the night shift.

But when Sanchez was with his own family, he overcompensated for his dark childhood by being the good husband and father, his lawyer said.

“He raised two children, and they were leading normal lives,” LoTempio explained. “Obviously there was this Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

How could his wife not be aware that her husband was a serial rapist and killer?

Kathleen Sanchez chose not to speak with reporters and expressed remorse for the victims in a handwritten statement read by her lawyer.

LoTempio pointed out that Kathleen Sanchez wasn’t the only one who didn’t suspect her husband.

Amherst police had questioned Sanchez after the Yalem killing, and Buffalo police had once questioned his uncle — who lied to them — about a car Sanchez was driving after a 1981 rape, LoTempio noted.

“Law enforcement in this community went almost 30 years without putting 2 and 2 together,” LoTempio said. “So it’s not out of this world that she wouldn’t have put 2 and 2 together.”

LoTempio believes that Sanchez has a mental illness. But it has not been diagnosed, he said, and Sanchez has never received medication to treat it.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Sanchez was in a “state of denial,” according to his lawyer.

From the arrest up until now, the lawyer has seen his client’s emotions change.

“He went from behaving like a beaten man to beginning to become more remorseful,” LoTempio said.

Sanchez may show remorse now, but he didn’t turn himself in.

His January arrest came when a police task force formed after the Diver killing went back and re-examined old cases.

His arrest not only ended the Bike Path investigation, but led to the release of another man, Anthony J. Capozzi, who was imprisoned for two rapes in 1984 that authorities now say Sanchez committed.

In one of the old cases, detectives reinterviewed Sanchez’s uncle about the 1981 rape in Delaware Park. Three days after the attack, the victim noticed a man resembling her attacker at Boulevard Mall. She jotted down the license plate number and called police. Authorities tracked down the vehicle, registered to Sanchez’s uncle, Wilfredo Sanchez Caraballo, then a West Side resident.

Caraballo at the time told police the car had not been used in a long time. Police took photos of the uncle and the car, which were shown to the victim. She recognized the car but not the man, law enforcement sources say.

Detectives from the newly formed task force tracked down the uncle and reinterviewed him. This time, he provided a different version of the story he had told detectives almost 26 years earlier.

He admitted that his nephew had borrowed the car to go to the Amherst mall with his girlfriend, now Sanchez’s wife.

The investigators’ break came when Sanchez dined with his wife at a restaurant in Amherst.

Detectives seized a glass Sanchez had used, and the DNA on it matched that of the Bike Path Killer.

News Staff Reporters Vanessa Thomas and Gene Warner contributed to this report.

mbeebe@buffnews.com

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