Mother: Attack on son ‘barbaric, unforgivable’ — (The Eagle-Tribune)

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The Eagle-Tribune

Shawn Regan/Staff Writer

The grieving mother said she still has trouble believing he’s gone.

It gave her a small measure of satisfaction that the two men who beat Buckley to death last January — Stephen Purpura, 18, and Joseph Manzi, 21 — were led away in handcuffs yesterday to begin serving long prison terms, she said.

Purpura was sentenced to eight to 10 years in state prison and Manzi to 31/2 to five years, after each admitted to sucker-punching and then beating Buckley as he lay unconscious on the ground outside a Haverhill house party Jan. 13.

“What these young men did to my son Paul was barbaric and unforgivable. They took my son’s life and have imposed a lifetime of pain and sorrow onto his family and friends,” Smith said in a statement to the court.

She said doctors told her the damage done to her son was comparable to a gunshot wound to the head. It was her decision to take her son off the machine that was keeping him alive six days after the beating, she said.

“I watched as his body temperature climbed to 106 degrees and they desperately tried to bring it back,” she said. “They had to put hot, heavy bags on his chest to help the fluid drain out of his lungs. They hooked him up to nitrous oxide because oxygen was no longer helping him to breathe. I saw his body shutting down as he was losing his fight to live, and then had to make the ultimate decision to take him off life support.

“That’s something I must live with for the rest of my life, not because of an accident, but because of a deliberate intention to harm,” she said, shaking and sobbing.

“Some people might say they made a mistake,” she said of Purpura and Manzi. “I say they made a choice.”

Purpura and Manzi, who are cousins, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. They were originally charged with second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years. Judge Howard Whitehead upheld the prison terms agreed to by the defendants and the Essex County district attorney’s office.

Buckley was a 2004 graduate of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School. He hoped to become an electrician, get married and have children, his mother said.

At the end of her statement, Smith held up a photo of her son “taken 30 minutes before he was beaten,” she said.

“This is what I have to remember him by,” she said.

Approximately 50 people — family and friends of the victim and the defendants — packed the courtroom for the half-hour hearing that included statements from Smith and lawyers for Purpura and Manzi.

Purpura, who has been held at Middleton jail for almost a year, spent most of the hearing with his head bowed and looking at the floor. Manzi, who had been free on $100,000 bail, also kept his head down, staring blankly and frequently rubbing his forehead back and forth. He told the judge he was taking medication for depression.

Many in the courtroom sobbed throughout the proceeding.

Assistant District Attorney Greg Friedholm prosecuted the case. He said Buckley was attacked shortly after Purpura, Manzi and a third person were asked to leave a house party on Haverhill Street. The three men went to buy pizza, and when they returned to the area, Purpura asked them to get out of the car because his “boys were in a fight,” Friedholm said.

Buckley was outside because he had heard a friend of his was in a fight, Friedholm said. A witness said he heard Buckley say he didn’t want to fight, but that he wanted to make sure his friend, Andy Howard, was OK, Friedholm said.

A neighbor who watched the fight said he saw Purpura and Manzi run toward Buckley, Friedholm said.

“The witness saw Purpura punch Buckley in the head,” Friedholm said. “Buckley never saw the punch coming. He didn’t have a chance to defend himself.”

The witness said he “saw and heard” Buckley’s head hit the ground, Friedholm said.

“He laid motionless on the ground and Purpura kicked him three or four times in the head,” Friedholm said. “Manzi kicked him three or four times in the back and shoulders.”

As they fled, the witness heard Manzi yell to Purpura, “Steve, I think you knocked the (expletive) kid out,” Friedholm said. An autopsy concluded Buckley died from “blunt impact to the back of the head,” Friedholm said.

Purpura and Manzi told the judge that Friedholm’s account was true.

Purpura’s lawyer, Gerald LaFlamme, said his client wanted Smith to know everything she said in her statement was true and that Purpura was prepared to pay for what he did.

“My client understands no amount of remorse can satisfy Mrs. Smith and Paul Buckley’s family and friends,” said Ted Cranney, the lawyer who represented Manzi. “He’s saddened by his incarceration, but more saddened by his actions. There has not been a day since Jan. 13 that it has not weighed heavily on him. He will live with it forever.”

After the hearing, Smith said she was happy Manzi would be joining Purpura behind bars. She said she wished both mens’ prison sentences would have been longer.

“I know their parents are feeling the pain of their children being in prison,” she said. “But they can still talk to them, see them, and eventually, spend the holidays and the future with them,” she said. “That option has been taken away from us forever.”