Life without parole: Lott family grieves the loss of father, son

BRATTLEBORO — After hearing from two family members of murder victims Steven and Jamis Lott, Windham County Judge Katherine Hayes expressed regret that she had never known the father and son.

"I wish we all had a chance to know them," she said, holding back tears. "It was a senseless, senseless, senseless crime."

Robin O'Neill, 67, formerly of Townshend, chose to waive her right to be present during Friday's sentencing hearing, during which she was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. Because she left the courtroom, O'Neill did not hear the victim statements that touched Hayes.

Before O'Neill was excused, Hayes asked her if she was sure, and made sure that the suggestion wasn't influenced by her counsel. "Oh, absolutely," O'Neill responded.

O'Neill was convicted by a jury of aggravated murder on June 28 for the deaths of her fiance, Steven and, his son, Jamis. The jury concluded O'Neill shot Steven after he broke off their engagement. Jamis was home doing laundry when he was also shot and killed. Court documents state that O'Neill was intoxicated when police showed up. According to those reports, a family friend called police, stating he'd received a call from O'Neill who said something to the effect of ''I did it. I just shot and killed Steven and Jamis."

Aggravated murder has a defined sentence of life in prison with no possibility of parole. Victim impact statements have no effect on the sentencing. However, several family members chose to speak to the court.

Ellenka Wasung-Lott was the first to speak. She was Steven's niece and Jamis's cousin. She thanked the Windham County State's Attorney's office and the jury members who tried the case for their help in bringing justice to Jamis and Steven. Wasung-Lott described warm and joyful memories of Steven and Jamis. Jamis, she said, had a unique world view that affected and enriched everyone he came in contact with. Jamis, she said, was special. He was an artist who constantly searched for deeper moments.

"We will never see all the wonder that he would have surely brought to fruition," Wasung-Lott said. "He was killed because he cared about his father."

Wasung-Lott said that Jamis, on the night of his death, was checking up on his dad. "He, like the rest of us knew that things weren't right," Wasung-Lott said.

Wasung-Lott said there had been warning signs of O'Neill's actions. The family had started to notice that O'Neill was jealous and Steven had eventually told O'Neill to leave.

Though Steven wasn't perfect, no one is, Wasung-Lott said.

"Steve was true to himself," she said. She described his attentiveness to his garden and his love of sharing his produce with others.

Steven was an adventurer, Wasung-Lott said. He enjoyed flying, and shooting and zip-lining. "He was crass and he made us all laugh."

Steven was especially attentive to her father before her father's death. Wasung-Lott said he brought her father out to lunch and laughed and joked with him.

She regretted that she and her family and friends would never again get to benefit from having Jamis and Steven in their lives. "Instead we try to keep them alive in our thoughts," she said.

Though Wasung-Lott said she was relieved with the outcome of the trial, she said she also felt sad for O'Neill.

"She could have been welcomed into our family with open arms, all we ever wanted was the best for Steven. They could have been traveling, and gardening and watching movies. They could have been playing backgammon with Adair, and walking dogs in the woods and sitting by the pond and watching beavers," she said. "But her choices destroyed those possibilities long before she ever pulled the trigger. Our tragedy came from the defendant being her own worst enemy, and I hope she can find some semblance of the inner peace for which she has so obviously been searching."

After Jamis's death, Wasung-Lott helped box Jamis's items. On the back of one of his sketch books she found a prayer.

"It was as if, even in death, Jamis was being mindful to us," Wasung-Lott said. "As if he knew the prayer would bring us some measure of comfort and help us through, and it has."

Susan Lott, Jamis's mother, was the next to read a victim impact statement, and she opened with the prayer.

Before she started, Hayes asked Susan for her name. "I'm Jamis's mother," Susan softly replied.

"Lord make me an instrument of thy peace," the prayer began. When Susan had finished reading the prayer she talked about her son who had many mentors, like the Dali Lama. She described Jamis's puppet shows and the children's book he wrote that is now being turned into a shadow puppet story.

"He was an incredible humble, humble young man," she said. "His legacy will continue for all children to enjoy."

Wherever he went Jamis tried to practice and spread peace through out the world. He tried to teach meditation and nonviolent communication, Susan said.

"Jamis has asked for us to forgive the defendant," Susan said. "And it is through him that we will learn compassion."

After the statements the lawyers were asked if they each had something to say. Defense Attorney Ian Carleton only said, "I don't believe this is my day to speak."

Hayes thanked the family for giving their impact statements and spoke of how much she admired them.

As Wasung-Lott spoke, Hayes said, she was thinking about how there was nothing positive that came from the crime. "There's no way to turn it around, and yet you've already started to do that," she said. "I'm sure Jamis would be proud of you as Steven would of making the best of a tragic tragic situation."

She also expressed her amazement that the family had already begun to have compassion for the defendant, and she regretted that the defendant had not stayed to listen to the testimony.

"I hope that at some point she would have the opportunity to listen," she said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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