CALDWELL, Ohio - Unable to wipe away tears with his tightly bound hands, the man who murdered a Caldwell woman hung his head and wept quietly Wednesday in the Noble County Common Pleas Courtroom where he was about to be sentenced.
Larry A. Schoeppner, 34, of 231 N. Main St., Belle Valley, received a life sentence, with the possibility of parole after 28 years, for the Sept. 22 shooting death of 46-year-old Tracy L. Kay, his estranged ex-girlfriend.
The sentence, said Schoeppner, will be a secondary punishment to his guilt.
Larry Schoeppner, center, of Belle Valley, sobs Wednesday in court as he is addressed by Susan Lowe, the mother of 46-year-old Tracy Kay, whom Schoeppner shot and killed in September. (Photo by Jasmine Rogers)
"The true punishment will always be in my heart. I hope after I get sent away you all get some closure," he said as he sobbed his way through a written apology to Kay's family.
In his apology Schoeppner did not give a reason for his actions, something Kay's mother, Sharon Lowe, 64, of Akron, said she is still trying to understand.
"We have questions that will never be answered because this coward refuses to let us know why," said Lowe as she addressed Schoeppner and the court.
Schoeppner and Kay had once been romantically involved, but Kay had ended the relationship a year before the murder.
Still, said Lowe, Schoeppner would not leave Kay alone.
"She would come to our house to visit and she would have a good 300 text messages from him," she said.
Lowe described Kay as a soft-spoken, gentle, caring woman who has now been taken from her six grandchildren.
"I hope you suffer every day of your life. At least you still have one. I hope the horror you caused shadows you for the rest of your life," she told Schoeppner.
Tasha Kay, 29, who heard the three gunshots ring out at her mother's apartment that night, told Schoeppner she forgave him.
"There are so many things I could say, but the only thing I do have to say is I forgive you. I forgive you because I will not let the pain of what you did ruin our lives," she said.
Following the sentencing, Tasha said that being able to talk to her mother on the phone leading up to the murder helped her get the closure denied to some of the other family members.
"I got to talk to my mother that night. I got to say I love you, to say my last goodbye," she said.
It was Tasha who called the authorities that night after her mother expressed concern that Schoeppner might be waiting at her apartment to harm her. Tasha arrived at her mother's apartment just as police and sheriff's deputies did, in time to hear three gunshots ring out inside and to then hear Schoeppner ask Tracy if she was OK.
"I know he loved my mother, probably too much. He was obsessed with her," said Tasha.
Schoeppner had been threatening her mother, and Tracy had reported those threats a month before her murder, she said.
Schoeppner was indicted in October for aggravated burglary and two counts of aggravated murder charged two different ways, said Noble County Prosecutor Kelly Riddle.
Schoeppner pleaded guilty on Feb. 8 to the second charge of aggravated murder with a gun specification, the charge that specified Schoeppner had committed the crime with calculation and design, said Riddle.
Noble County Common Pleas Court Judge John W. Nau pointed out that Schoeppner has previously served time in prison for a felony offense. Schoeppner also has a pattern of drug or alcohol abuse related to the offense that he refuses to acknowledge or seek counsel for, said Nau.
Nau sentenced Schoeppner to serve a minimum of 25 years on the aggravated murder charge and a consecutive three years for the gun specification.
Lowe said she wasn't satisfied with the sentence.
"I'm not, but at least we didn't have to go through a trial which I don't think I could have handled," she said.