PITTSBURGH – A Pittsburgh-area woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to fatally shooting an FBI agent who led a pre-dawn raid to arrest her husband, but she also blamed federal agents for the deadly confrontation, a claim the agent's mother and widow disputed.
Christina Korbe, 42, was sentenced to 15 years and 10 months in prison after she pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a weapons charges in the death of Special Agent Samuel Hicks.
Korbe's husband, Robert, is serving 25 years in prison after pleading guilty last year to the drug-trafficking charges that brought Hicks' raiding party to the Korbe home in Indiana Township on Nov. 19, 2008. Scores of other law enforcement agents simultaneously rounded up 34 co-defendants without incident around Pittsburgh that morning.
"Had Robert Korbe simply opened the door and surrendered that morning, none of us would be here today," U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry said Tuesday.
Instead, Robert Korbe cursed at agents trying to open his door with a battering ram, then ran to the basement to flush cocaine down a sink before running out a back door, where he was arrested. That left his wife alone with their two children, then 10 and 5.
Korbe acknowledged firing the single fatal shot from a .38-caliber Taurus revolver that killed Hicks, but only after the judge defined voluntary manslaughter as an intentional killing carried out by someone in an "emotional state fueled by anger, fear, terror or rage.
As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dismissed charges alleging Korbe aided her husband's drug conspiracy and illegal weapons possession. Some charges carried mandatory minimums that, combined, could have resulted in at least a 45-year sentence even if Korbe were acquitted of the homicide charge at trial, defense attorney Caroline Roberto said.
Korbe tearfully apologized to Hicks' family but said the "tactics and procedures" by law enforcement prompted her response.
"The element of surprise is not worth someone's life," Korbe said.
Korbe repeatedly claimed she fired only because she believed the officers were unknown intruders. Prosecutors have insisted that Hicks and other law officers loudly and clearly identified themselves before breaking through the Korbes' door and point to Robert Korbe's actions as proof that it was clear who they were.
Charlotte Carrabotta, the slain agent's mother, disputed Korbe's claim that she fired to protect her children, telling the judge: "Christina Korbe was not protecting her children. Samuel was protecting her children."
At a news conference after Korbe's hearing, Carrabotta and Hicks' widow, Brooke, said they didn't buy Korbe's tearful apology but agreed with the sentence so they could move on.
Hicks, 33, also left behind a son, Noah, now 4.
"I will be left with only words and pictures to try to convey to Noah how much his father loved him," Brooke Hicks said.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done to sit there and listen to the person who took him from me and hear how she feels," she said. "She can't apologize to me in one breath and in the next blame the government."
Brooke Hicks said it was "extremely difficult" to accept Christina Korbe's sentence, but said, "The most important thing to me is she stood up in that courtroom and accepted responsibility for killing Sam. That's all I ever wanted her to do."
Hicks' mother said she was hurt by Korbe's family, who had complained in the media and distributed fliers last week claiming Christina would never get a fair trial. Korbe's family gave the media copies of a handwritten statement they expected Christina to read in court in which she spoke of "fabricated evidence" and other allegations against the government. The statement Korbe read in court was less inflammatory.
Even Judge McVerry took issue, saying, "In contradiction to your family's public rantings to the contrary, you would have received a fair and open trial."
With no criminal record, Korbe received 70 months in prison for killing Hicks — well within federal sentencing guidelines — plus a mandatory 10-year sentence for using a weapon in a violent crime, as part of the plea agreement.
Hick's mother said was bothered by the family's statements and felt a "rush of anger" when Korbe blamed her actions on the government, but calmed down.
"At that point I thought, 'I was here for Samuel. I was not here for Christina Korbe.'"