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March 19, 2003

Admitted killer gets 20-40 for shooting woman in face

From: Philadelphia Daily News, PA - Mar 19, 2003


Saturday's Daily News incorrectly featured a previously published story in the case of a Kensington murder that went unsolved for seven years. Here is the story that should have been published:

Blanche Van Guilder's murder case has always been unusual - since that awful day in 1995 when a passing motorist shot the 21-year-old deaf woman in the face.

The killer was never found and, in spite of the Van Guilder family's vigilance, police never solved the puzzling case.

But out of the blue last year, Alex Crespo, 29, accompanied by his minister, confessed to killing Van Guilder and wounding her boyfriend, Timothy Laumeister, as the couple walked near Van Guilder's Kensington home.

The case - resurrected after seven years because a criminal found religion - took another strange twist last week.

As Crespo's Common Pleas Court jury deliberated his fate after a three-day trial, the defendant pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.

Under the plea agreement, Crespo was sentenced to 20-40 years in prison for murder and aggravated assault.

Crespo's attorney, Earl Kauffman, said he initiated plea negotiations when it appeared as though the jury was deadlocked over whether to convict Crespo of first- or third-degree murder. The agreement saved Crespo from a mandatory life sentence for first-degree murder.

As Crespo struggled to answer the judge's questions calmly while entering his plea, his mother wept softly.

Across the room, Van Guilder's mother did the same.

In keeping with the unusual nature of the case, the families of the defendant and murder victim were drawn together by the crime.

"The families prayed together" during the trial, said the Rev. Luis Centeno, Crespo's former pastor who accompanied his parishioner when he confessed to police.

Since Crespo came forward in March 2002, the Van Guilder family has expressed its gratitude that he had finally ended their years of confusion and frustration. They thanked him again last week.

"The Laumeister and Van Guilder families give their thanks to him for coming forward and giving them closure," Fisk said in court.

"The Van Guilders specifically asked me to express that thanks."

The Van Guilders, religious and forgiving people by nature, nonetheless took some time to adopt their open attitude toward Blanche's killer.

"At first, when it happened, I wanted an eye for an eye," Florence Van Guilder, Blanche's mother, told the Daily News shortly after Crespo's confession. "I don't want that now."

They always were opposed to seeking the death penalty in the case.

Assistant District Attorney Arlene Fisk withdrew her intent to seek the death penalty before the trial began.

The plea agreement not only provided relief to the families, but also to Crespo's frustrated jury. As the judge informed jurors that Crespo had just entered a guilty plea to third-degree murder, several jurors vigorously nodded their heads in agreement.

Just before Crespo headed back to prison, Judge Lineberger offered the repentant killer some hope.

"You will be an asset to individuals who are incarcerated," he said. "I bet and believe you will do a fine job of bringing the light to those who are incarcerated, and the prison you are going to will probably be lucky to have you."

© 2003 Philadelphia Daily News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.