Cornell U. doctoral student from New Zealand sentenced to 25 years to life in wife's murder

ITHACA, N.Y. (AP) — A Cornell University doctoral student who fatally slashed his wife's throat last year was sentenced to up to life in prison Wednesday after the victim's father put an urn containing her ashes on a courtroom table and asked a judge for the maximum penalty.

Blazej Kot was convicted in April of killing 28-year-old Caroline Coffey, a postdoctoral researcher at the Ivy League school who he'd married just months before the June 2009 murder.

At his sentencing in Ithaca, the 25-year-old from New Zealand apologized to his wife's family, said he loved her and that he hoped treatment will help him recover from the mental disorder his lawyer said drove him to the crime, Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson said.

Kot spoke after Michael Coffey stood, removed the urn with his daughter's ashes from a bag and made his emotional plea to County Court Judge John Rowley.

Rowley went on to impose the maximum 25 years to life for murder, noting the brutality of the killing and a jury's rejection of Kot's defense that he suffered from a mental disorder that made him think his wife had been replaced by an impostor, Wilkinson said.

A jury found Kot guilty of second-degree murder, arson and tampering with evidence after a three-week trial that included testimony he plotted the killing and set fire to the couple's apartment to cover up the crime.

Kot was born to Polish parents in Zaire and moved with his family to New Zealand, where he attended the University of Auckland. He came to Cornell on a student visa to pursue a doctorate in information science.

He met Coffey at the school and they were married in Ithaca in October 2008.

At the time of the killing, Kot had taken a leave of absence from his doctoral program to work for a business startup. His 60- to 80-hour work weeks and the couple's mounting financial woes were contributing to an onset of depression, paranoia and other acute symptoms associated with Capgras delusion, a misidentification syndrome common in patients diagnosed with schizophrenia, his lawyer said.

Coffey was killed a few hundred yards from their apartment on a trail popular with bikers and joggers.

Authorities said Kot later set fire to the apartment and led police on a five-mile, high-speed chase after a state park officer spotted him in a car with dried blood on his arms. During the chase, Kot cut his throat with a knife, suffering critical wounds, but survived after being airlifted to a hospital.

Kot was also sentenced Wednesday to one year in prison on each of the lesser charges. His lawyer has said there will be an appeal.