FORT WAYNE – As she made her way to the prosecution table, the stepmother of Susan Jeanine Lombardi turned to the family of the man who killed her.
I’m sorry, she said, quietly. If what I’m about to say hurts you in any way, I’m sorry.
And then Deb Caudill took her seat at the table, turned to Anthony Ochs and, without emotion or sparing any detail, described the last few days of Lombardi’s life – the eight days after Ochs smashed his 42-year-old girlfriend’s head in with a baseball bat.
I’m telling you this because I’m not sure you know exactly what you did, Caudill told Ochs, who was sentenced Friday to 50 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. You need to know.
Ochs, 40, stared right at Caudill when she spoke, as though he wanted to absorb every horrible word, every detail about the facial fractures, the bank of IVs and the life support; the bleeding, the fevers and the fatally swelling brain.
I’ll never forget what you did to our daughter, she said. You took our daughter away from us. And unfortunately you took your own two daughters away from you.
When it was Ochs’ turn to address the court, his attorney, Randy Fisher, had to persuade him not to get on his knees in front of Lombardi’s family to beg their forgiveness.
So he stood, and he wept.
I am sorry. I am so sorry, he said. I love you all. I loved Susan. I pray for her every day. I appreciate how you treated me as a son. I was supposed to protect her.
Sorry’ doesn’t cut it. Sorry’ doesn’t bring her back. I let you all down.
Lombardi was a lover of strays, a person who gravitated to the needs of others, her family said Friday morning in Allen Superior Court.
Jeanine was always the champion of the underdog, Caudill told Ochs. That’s why she loved you. She was beautiful, inside and out.
As did his wife, Lombardi’s father, Jack Caudill, extended forgiveness to Ochs, in spite of what he did.
There is no stopping the hurt I feel every day, he said. I am almost 72 years old, and I should have gone first.
I forgive you, Tony, but my forgiveness is not what you need. She loved me, and I loved her. Just as Jesus loves us both.
According to court documents and statements in court, Ochs and Lombardi had a relationship that went horribly wrong after Ochs – a decorated Army combat veteran with three tours in Iraq and suffering from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder – went into a drunken rage after Lombardi asked him to leave her home.
There was an earlier instance of domestic violence between the couple, according to court documents.
Ochs himself called 911, telling police he’d hit Lombardi in the head. Police and paramedics arrived to a grisly scene and took Lombardi to the hospital in critical condition with multiple facial fractures, skull fractures and other injuries. Ochs was initially charged with attempted murder. Prosecutors bumped the charge up to murder a few days later when Lombardi’s family removed her from life support.
At the time of his arrest, Ochs said he’d consumed about a dozen beers, couldn’t remember how many times he’d hit her or what it was that made him so angry, according to court documents.
As the case progressed, issues were raised about Ochs’ mental health, and Fisher initially sought to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
But in March, Ochs pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter. His sentence was outlined by the agreement at 50 years in prison.
Often, when a case’s outcome is determined by a plea agreement, neither side presents evidence. The judges are also often silent.
But on Friday, as she sentenced Ochs, Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull noted the extraordinary forgiveness extended by Lombardi’s family.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing, Gull said. It is a tremendous gift you’ve been given. I know that you are aware of that.
She also ordered Ochs to pay $5,600 in restitution to the family to cover the funeral expenses. She noted for the Indiana Department of Correction that Ochs suffers from mental health issues and asked that he receive counseling.
After Ochs was led out of the courtroom, his family made its way over to where the Caudills and other family and friends of Lombardi were seated. All members of the groups hugged and cried, comforting one another and walking out of the courtroom together.