Two local families stand shattered by the awful events of Nov. 19, 2010, when Steven M. Pieper squeezed the life out of his estranged girlfriend, 20-year-old Jenni-Lyn Watson.
On Feb. 15, the 21-year-old auto parts clerk pleaded guilty to second-degree murder at the Onondaga County Courthouse in downtown Syracuse.
According to District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick, Pieper admitted to strangling Watson to death after she told him she was ending their relationship. Until he testified before a grand jury on Valentine's Day, Pieper had maintained his innocence.
At his arraignment Feb. 15 which lasted just eight minutes, the young man publicly admitted his guilt to County Judge Anthony Aloi. In accepting the plea, Aloi said he'd sentence Pieper to 23 years to life in state prison on March 8.
Two families suffer
Members of both the Watson and Pieper families were present in the courtroom but declined to comment. The Watsons are expected to break their silence at next month's sentencing.
After last Tuesday's proceeding, DA Fitzpatrick pointed out that, while the Watson family lost a beloved daughter, the Pieper family also suffers.
"The Piepers are good people," Fitzpatrick said, "and to their credit they reached out, in a very quiet way, to the Watson family, and I thought that was very decent of them."
Pieper lived on Coconut Tree Drive in Clay, and the Watsons live on Donegal Way. The prosecution maintained that Pieper visited Jenni-Lyn at her parents' home the morning of Nov. 19 while she spent Thanksgiving break at home from college.
Fitzpatrick said Pieper fatally strangled her between 11 and 11:30 a.m., placed the body in the trunk of his Volkswagen Jetta and drove away.
"Jenni-Lyn was seeing other people, which is perfectly normal for a young woman at college," the DA said. "I'm convinced that her desire to live her own life enraged the defendant and led to her murder.