Becica Sentencing
Janel Bullard, left, daughter of Denise Cianchetta, speaks of her mother Friday at the sentencing of Harold Becica, the man convicted of Cianchetta's 2008 vehicular homicide. Dale Gerhard

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Like every year before, Michael Turner will bring his wife flowers on her birthday today. But this year, he’ll place them on her grave.

Harold Becica was sentenced Friday in Superior Court to three years in prison for a Nov. 16, 2008, collision that killed Denise Cianchetta. Becica had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car.

Becica, 48, of the Villas section of Lower Township, had no alcohol in his system, but earlier drinking and prescription Percocet had left him too tired to drive, he admitted during a plea in February.

Latest Video

Turner, of Cape May Court House, fought tears outside of court as he described his wife and the birthday tradition of flowers now changed forever. He cried before he said the word “grave.”

Turner said he forgives Becica.

“I knew Denise would want me to,” he said. “We’re Catholic. We believe in God.”

During sentencing Friday, Cianchetta’s family members spoke one by one in front of Judge Kyran Connor, as they stood across from Becica.

A television screen flashed images of Cianchetta, a mother of four, at parties and weddings, at Christmas, holding a baby, smiling.

“My wife, Denise, was a very caring and loving woman. And she did not deserve to go down like this,” Turner said.

Some family members said the penalty was too light — that three years in prison was inadequate for the death.

Her mother, Peg Cianchetta, said, “I’m upset at the sentencing because I don’t think it fits the crime.”

“Three years in jail in absolutely ridiculous,” said her daughter, Sara MacCulloch, looking at Becica.

“I need to forgive you in order to continue my spiritual journey,” said another daughter, Janel Bullard.

“Not for you, but for me, I’m forgiving you.”

Speaking softly and nearly inaudibly in court, Becica said, “I want to apologize. … I’m sorry it happened.” He wiped his eyes with his right hand.

Cianchetta, who was 46, was heading home to watch a Dallas Cowboys football game that night.

Becica had attended a beef and beer fundraiser earlier that Sunday and fell asleep driving on Indian Trail Road in the Burleigh section of Middle Township.

His pickup truck swerved into Cianchetta’s lane. She died at the scene.

He pleaded guilty in February to second-degree vehicular homicide but was sentenced to a lesser penalty that includes three years in prison and parole ineligibility for 85 percent of the term.

Connor spoke about justice in terms of a human life. “How does one in this life, on this side of the river, do the calculus?” he said.

Justice, he said, doesn’t make everything better, and it doesn’t make the pain of losing a loved one less painful.

Contact Brian Ianieri:


Never miss breaking news as it happens! Sign up now to receive alerts delivered to your inbox.

Recommended for you

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.