The convicted killers of John Laubach will spend at least 25 years in prison for the 2012 homicide after they were sentenced to a maximum term by Bonnie Wittner, the judge who presided over the trial of the two men.
Edwin Faulkner, 33, and Juan Carlos Martinez-Herrera, 30, were charged with killing the 57-year-old gay man in his Chelsea apartment then robbing the apartment and fleeing to Florida, where they were arrested. Faulkner and Martinez-Herrera were homeless and earned cash as sex workers.
Laubach had an ongoing relationship with the gay couple in which he paid them for sex and also allowed them to shower in his home and store clothing and possessions there. The relationship soured after Laubach found that the couple had stolen from him.
Edwin Faulkner, Juan Carlos Martinez-Herrera get top sentences for felony murder conviction in 2012 Chelsea slaying
The prosecution never alleged that Faulkner and Martinez-Herrera intended to kill Laubach during the month-long trial. His death came after they bound and gagged him prior to the robbery. It is likely that the gag caused Laubach to choke to death, though the defense asserted that his death was an accident during rough sex.
Jurors weighed depraved indifference murder, felony murder, which charged that the gay couple caused Laubach’s death while committing another felony — namely, robbery and kidnapping — and second-degree manslaughter. After deliberating for roughly seven hours, jurors, on October 21, convicted the two on all counts except depraved indifference murder.
The maximum penalty for felony murder is 25-to-life, and Wittner gave both men the maximum. She also gave them maximum sentences on all the remaining counts, though all of the sentences will be served at the same time. Faulkner and Martinez-Herrera have been in jail since their 2012 arrests and that time counts toward their prison sentence.
“There’s no mitigation at all,” Wittner said on January 20 as she sentenced Faulkner in Manhattan Supreme Court. “This is one of the most brutal crimes I’ve ever seen.”
As she sentenced Martinez-Herrera, Wittner said, “I find that they are equally culpable… He did a horrific crime and he has to pay for that crime.”
Prior to Wittner’s sentencing, the prosecution asked for 25-to-life.
“We submit that this is a particularly horrific act in the scheme of felony murder,” said Lanita Hobbs, the assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case with Juan Abreu, also an assistant district attorney. “John Laubach’s death was not an accident, it was more akin to intentional murder.”
Daniel Scott, Faulkner’s attorney, asked that his client be sentenced to 15-to-life and Daniel Parker, Martinez-Herrera’s attorney, asserted that his client was less culpable than Faulkner in Laubach’s death and asked that his client receive 20-to-life.
The sentencing was a tense event after a group of roughly 15 activists who are asserting that the two men were unjustly convicted repeatedly interrupted the proceedings. As Hobbs was making her remarks, two members of “Free Edwin and Juan Carlos!” called out, “Shame, shame on all of you.” They were thrown out of the courtroom and the remaining collective members were told that if they interrupted, the entire group would be removed.
The collective members did not attend the trial, but appeared for the first time at a December 7 proceeding, when Faulkner and Martinez-Herrera were originally to be sentenced. They have an account on youcaring.com that has raised $821 for the couple from 32 donors, and that page has been shared on Facebook more than 1,800 times.
A second interruption came when Steven Kopf, a longtime friend of Laubach’s, addressed the court. After Kopf called Martinez-Herrera a “whiny little bitch,” another collective member jumped up and said, “Shame on you, you’re disgusting” as he exited the courtroom. The collective members could be identified by the magenta armbands they wore.
A third collective member was briefly detained by court officers after he took pictures on a tablet outside the courtroom. He was forced to delete the pictures and then released. Court rules only allow sanctioned photography in the courthouse. A friend of Laubach’s took pictures inside the courtroom and she had to delete them as well, though she was not detained.
About 10 of Laubach’s friends attended the sentencing and several were openly weeping as Kopf spoke. After praising Laubach for the “love and respect” that he showed for everyone, Kopf made a request of Wittner.
“I am asking that they be incarcerated in separate facilities so they never spend another moment together again,” he said.