MAYS LANDING — Heather Barbera was a part of a toxic environment and remorseful about beating her mother and grandmother to death. Or, she brutally murdered then robbed the two women after they were kind enough to take her in and financially support her.
Defense attorney James Leonard Jr. and Assistant Prosecutor Allison Eiselen presented two very different descriptions of Barbera during her sentencing Thursday afternoon in Atlantic County Superior Court.
Barbera apologized for the brutal killings, in which she bludgeoned her mother and grandmother to death with a billy club almost two years ago inside their Ventnor condo.
“I never wanted any of this to happen,” she said as she sat shackled in an orange jail jumpsuit, tears flowing down her face. “I just apologize.”
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Barbera, 43, who pleaded guilty in October to aggravated manslaughter in the death of her mother, Michelle Gordon, and murder in the death of Elaine Rosen, her grandmother, was sentenced to 42 years in prison before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr. She also must pay just over $7,000 in restitution.
Prosecutors alleged Barbera beat Rosen, 87, and Gordon, 67, to death before robbing them July 8, 2018, inside a condominium at the Vassar Square Arms complex, where Barbera also lived.
“The Heather Barbera that I have come to know, since I’ve been involved with her, is definitely not somebody that I could ever envision participating in anything like this, committing offenses like this,” Leonard said, adding he learned there was a “very, very toxic and very unhealthy family dynamic on both sides.”
In addition, substance abuse, mental health, self-esteem and emotional issues “created a very volatile situation that exploded very, very unfortunately,” he said, before adding that “emotionally, it has just destroyed her and she is extremely remorseful for everything that took place.”
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In contrast, Eiselen said, “There is no more heinous, cruel or depraved crime than killing one’s own grandmother and mother in a manner such as this.”
“This defendant bludgeoned the two victims to death in their own home, then cleaned herself off,” she said. “She stole their money and their jewelry and, as they were gasping their final breath, she just walked away.”
A handful of family and friends sat in the courtroom. Barbera’s second husband, Jimmy “Scotty” Thompson, and family friends sat behind her, while Richard Rosen, Barbera’s uncle and the man who found Rosen and Gordon dead, sat with others on the opposite side.
Erika DeLong, a lifelong friend of Barbera, spoke on her behalf before DeLury handed down the sentence. She asked for mercy.
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“She’s not a danger to society, she’s really not,” DeLong said, crying as she spoke about their friendship and the trust she has in Barbera. “This is a horrible situation that just got out of control.”
Eiselen read a victim impact statement from Betsy Tedesco, Rosen and Gordon’s cousin. She called the plea deal “a travesty” and “absurd” because there were “two murders, not one.”
DeLury described the crime as “brutal matricide,” adding the consecutive sentences — 12 years for the aggravated manslaughter and 30 for the murder — were more than warranted.
“After her violent attack on these two women, the defendant callously and calmly cleaned herself up, collected the valuable belongings she could find, including a ring from the hand of her dead mother, and then pawned the jewelry,” DeLury said. “She then fled the jurisdiction. The depravity is palpable.”
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Outside the courtroom, Thompson, 48, of Mississippi, said the sentencing was “unfair,” and that it should have been two counts of aggravated manslaughter.
“Heather has got a huge heart. She’s a good person, got a great personality,” he said. “She is going to be missed dearly. We’re losing her, too.”
Richard Rosen, 52, of Brooklyn, New York, said she deserved more.
“How can you get 42 years for two murders? It should have been life,” Rosen said. “I don’t understand the judicial system. I just hope she never gets out.”