CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — College student Vincent DeSario was just 19 years old when a Wildwood man hit him so hard in the head with a baseball bat it sounded like a gunshot.
On Tuesday, as convicted killer Alberto Martinez was sentenced to 50 years in state prison for DeSario’s 2010 murder, friends and family remembered the young man for his love of golf, his warm smile and kind deeds.
“Vinny always had a smile on his face … and I will always have a broken heart,” said his mother, Paula.
A collage of photos was placed nearby in the courtroom, facing Martinez, the now 32-year-old man who hit DeSario as DeSario and two friends walked down a Wildwood street.
Martinez believed the group was laughing at him, though witnesses testified at Martinez’s trial that one of the group had tripped and that was the reason for the laughter.
DeSario fell to the ground after being hit with the bat and died 14 days later, on May 24, 2010.
DeSario was in Wildwood to take part in a college golf tournament. His father, John, showed Superior Court Judge Patricia Wild two photos taken hours apart.
One was a happy young man who had played his favorite sport, golf, on May 10, 2010. The other was DeSario unconscious and lying in a hospital bed on May 11, 2010.
“This was not an act of God. This was an act of evil,” John DeSario said.
Vincent DeSario’s mother read a letter from one of his classmates, an older man whom DeSario had helped as they took calculus together.
The man recounted DeSario’s daily efforts to help him, something he thought many young people would not do.
“Vinny was a happy, giving, selfless person,” his mother said.
During Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, Wild granted First Assistant Prosecutor Rob Johnson’s motion to sentence Martinez as a persistent offender based on two prior theft convictions in New Jersey and Florida and a history that included 17 arrests.
Defense attorney Stephen Patrick highlighted Martinez’s mental health issues and Wild acknowledged that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and paranoia.
But she said Martinez was fully aware he had committed a crime that day, noting that he killed DeSario within a month of his release from custody on a theft charge.
She said Martinez demonstrated a pattern of “escalating criminal anti-social behavior.”
“He has brought himself here,” Johnson said of the life Martinez had led. “Vincent DeSario had been going the other way. He was doing everything to try and better himself.”
Johnson added that he believed Martinez would commit other crimes.
“There is a very serious risk he will engage in violent conduct again,” Johnson said.
Family members had hoped for a life sentence, noting that DeSario did not have the chance to live a longer life.
“Gone are all the hopes and dreams he had for his own life,” his uncle, Michael Cunningham, said.
DeSario’s friend, Gene Zannetti, echoed the words of others as he spoke of someone who was like a brother to him.
“There was no hate in his heart,” Zannetti said.
Wild sentenced Martinez to 50 years in state prison and he must serve 85 percent, or 42½ years, before becoming eligible for parole.
He received credit for time served of 1,177 days.
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