Emotions were high in the Butler District Court as family members spoke before the sentencing of Jacob Hoyt in the 2011 murder of Augusta resident Loyce Cody.
Originally charged as premeditated murder in the first degree, a plea agreement was reached for felony murder in the first degree with aggravated burglary as an underlying felony.
"This is an off grid felony," said Judge Mike Ward. "This defendant's sentence is fixed by statute."
But Ward did say he would allow the family members to speak, he just wanted them to know he couldn't change the sentence.
Before the family members spoke, County Attorney Darrin Devinney presented a stack of letters from family members to the court.
The first to speak was Cody's daughter, Lori Daly. She began by showing a photo of her mother.
"There is really no way this statement will express the true sense of who my mother was," she said.
She said Cody was a proud mother of five who at times worked two to three jobs to support the family. Through her work with the newspaper, she got to know most of the town of Augusta.
Daly went on to talk about Cody's fifth child, who was born with a genetic disorder.
"My mom was tireless in her efforts of taking care of my sister," she said. "Her life experience led to her becoming an early childhood special education teacher."
Cody went back to school and received her master's degree at the age of 50 and was still teaching at the age of 69.
At age 60, Cody was diagnosed with colon cancer and began chemotherapy treatments. They were so rough on her, the doctor asked if she wanted to stop treatments. When Cody asked how long she would have if she did stop, the doctor told her five years and Cody said that wasn't long enough, continuing to take treatments.
"She continued to teach and rarely missed a day from work," Daly said.
Daly talked more about her youngest sister, who now lives in a group home with other adults.
"Mother would go every weekend to pick up my sister for the weekend to bring her home," she said. "Every Friday my sister knew my mom was coming and every Friday at about the same time she would start to pace at the door waiting for her to arrive."
Those who provided care at the home said they didn't know how she always knew when it was time.
"My sister can't understand why my mom stopped coming," Daly said.
Cody also was active in her church.
"She lived with a strong belief in God and knew her faith would carry her through some of life's toughest situations," Daly said. "She didn't want recognition for things she did for others.
"Regardless of the circumstances, she would always overcome the obstacles with a positive outlook and smile," she continued.
Cody also never left the house without lipstick.
"One of my saddest moments that I will never forget is when my sister and I had to go to the funeral home and put her lipstick on," Daly said.
"The impact of my mother's loss is indescribable. Her students do not understand why Mrs. Cody is not in the classroom. Her family will never have the strength and assurance she once provided.
"The knowledge that she suffered such a horrible death will never go away. She did not deserve to take her last breath is such agony. The grandchildren ask 'why did Jacob kill grandma.' As parents, there are no answers to that question.
"My mother showed him love, understanding, taught him his entire life that if he needed anything he could come to her," she said through tears. "For Jacob to suffocate her while she was begging for her life, shows he has no conscience. Even after this heinous act she would not want him to die, but would want him to pay the consequences."
She said she was not happy with the plea deal and wished the hard 50 had been pursued. She didn't feel the possibility of parole in 20 years was just or fair.
"Why not sentence him to what he has taken – a life," Daly said. "He is a cold blooded killer. He cannot be trusted to ever be released from prison. My family is not safe if he is not incarcerated the rest of his life."
She asked the judge to depart from the plea agreement.
Cody's youngest sister, Joella Ford, also spoke to the court.
"I will never forget the moment I found out she had been murdered," she said. "It would a complete shock to think someone could harm someone like my sister. Then to find out it was by her own grandson. Watching Jacob grow up I never imagined.
"Jacob is a cold blooded murderer, he planned and contemplated her murder. He could have prevented this from happening at any time," Ford continued. "I think of how awful it was to know your grandson was there to kill you. You would have to be a heartless, spineless, cold blooded killer to go through something like this.
"What Jacob did will never make sense to this family. I live in fear of what he might be capable of if he were released. Twenty years in prison could mean living our life in fear of what he will do if he is released. We have been through enough."
Another sister of Cody, Nancy Scherman, also spoke.
"I don't want her to be remembered just as a murder victim," she said. "She was full of hope for the future. She was in excellent health and wanted to teach until she was 80.
"My sister's murder was not an act of a burglary gone wrong. He was mad because at Thanksgiving his grandmother dared to tell him no. I will never get the visual image of my sister's face out of my head of her final 30 minutes with sacks over her head."
She said they are mentally terrorized by thoughts of this on a daily basis and will be in fear for their future if Hoyt is released.
Cody's oldest son, Jerry Hoyt, spoke next, saying he had written down a lot of the same things the others had said.
"I just want to speak from my heart," he said. "I'm old school and I wish I could get my hands on him."
He didn't believe 20 years was enough and didn't understand the reason for the plea.
"Jake, this is the last time you will ever hear from me because you are dead to me," Jerry Hoyt said.
He went on to talk about Jacob's little brother who has lived with him for the last 20 months.
"Everyone has heard what you have done," he said. "They tease him his brother is a murderer. Your mom is a basket case. You have ruined her life.
"When we had to make funeral arrangements, we still made sure on the funeral notice you were her grandson. Your grandmother loved you."
Jerry Hoyt, overcome with emotion, said he had to recently empty out Cody's house.
"Jake, I threw away every one of your pictures," he said. "I just don't get it when she's begging for her life, how you can do it, man, how can you do it? You had the chance to stop. I heard she had forgiven you while you were doing it. I'll never forgive you. Look at me. I'm serious and you know me. Don't ever get ahold of anyone in our family. We want no contact with you. If you get out, stay away."
The final presentation was of a letter from Jacob's mother, Toni Hoyt.
The letter said: "No mother should ever have to write this letter and no son should ever put his mother in this situation. As a mother, I loved that child with everything in me. What Jacob did has forever changed my life and his little brother's life and the entire family. Jacob should have protected his grandmother. It breaks my heart to see his little brother cry because he misses his brother.
"This person sitting before the judge is not my son. This person we look at today is a cold blooded killer. Two people died that day – my son and my mother."
She went on to write she is scared something could happen to her or someone else in her family and she has nightmares weekly Jacob is trying to kill her or his little brother.
"I have not seen or spoken with Jacob Allen Hoyt since he murdered my mother and I never will," she wrote. "They planned it out, looked it up, tried numerous times because it was not as easy as they had thought. They both had numerous times to stop one another and never did.
"This will never be OK. I believe Jacob Allen Hoyt deserves more than 20 years to life... Not one day goes by I don't miss my mother and son, but they are both gone forever."
Ward thanked the family members for speaking, saying he knew it wasn't easy for them but hoped it benefitted them to have the opportunity.
After a 10-minute recess, the judge proceeded with the sentencing.
Hoyt's attorney asked the court to impose the sentence presented by the statute, saying Hoyt was hopeful he could make amends in those 20 years. She also said Hoyt has been nothing but remorseful for what he has done since the first day she met him. She said he was 18 at the time of the murder, quite young and immature, and to this day he can't believe what he has done, although he did take responsibility. Hoyt also has been suicidal during the course of these hearings.
Hoyt also was given the opportunity to speak.
"First off, I love my family," he said. "I always have and always will. I know I will probably never see you all again, so this is goodbye. I tried suicide countless times because I thought there was no hope for me in the future.
"I've heard all of you and am suffering with you. I loved my grandma and it haunts me every day. I know it's hard, guys. I'm in pain too. I want to say to my mom how sorry I am and how much I regret doing what I did. To the rest of you, I hope you find in your hearts to forgive me one day. I pray that you all have mercy on me. I love you and I will always be waiting.
"I went there that night for one thing, but another happened. I never planned or thought about killing. I would give my life to bring her back. I know this crime is horrible. I loved my grandma. There is no excuse for what happened that night. I fully take responsibility. I just wish I could have stopped myself. I was being manipulated. I was high. I didn't have a conscience that night."
He said he talks to his grandma every day and prays to God every day.
"I get on my knees and beg for forgiveness," he said. "She was one of the greatest people I knew. She supported me in any way. I'm truly sorry for what I have done and I beg for your mercy."
Ward then moved on with the sentence, addressing the request for some kind of departure for sentence, saying that wasn't possible here. While he could file a written motion for departure, there was already a life sentence imposed so he can't ask for more. Parole eligibility after 20 years is part of the law.
"Mr. Hoyt, there are a lot of things I could say to you right now, but I think they have all been said by the friends and family members of Mrs. Cody who appeared here today," Ward said. "Their loss is immeasurable. I had asked myself since this case began how could a young man murder his own grandmother? The love parents feel for children, the love grandparents feel for grandchildren, there is no deeper love than that. How could you have come to a point in your heart and mind to do what is incomprehensible?
"They are right, you could have stopped this. A good woman is gone forever. I don't get it; I never will; they never will. Murder is usually very senseless, and this is maybe as senseless a crime as I have ever known."
Ward sentenced Hoyt to the Kansas Department of Corrections for the crime of felony first degree murder for the rest of his natural life, with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
"That doesn't mean you will ever get out of prison because your sentence is a life sentence," Ward said, "but after 20 years you can begin asking for parole."
If he is ever granted parole he will be on post release supervision for the rest of his life, as well as have to register as a violent offender for 15 years.
Following the sentencing, the family said they understood the judge was limited on sentence, but they were disappointed a plea was made. In response to Hoyt's statement, Daly said it was all pointless now because what was done was done. She did say they wanted to thank the Augusta Public Safety Department for their efforts.
Devinney said it is unusual to get someone to agree to a plea for a life sentence. This saved the process of the trial and the possibility of an appeal.
If the case had gone to trial and Hoyt was convicted on pre-meditated murder, it would have gone to an evidentuary hearing, and depending on the outcome a hard 50 sentence may be imposed or it could have still been life in prison.
"Had we gone to trial there was no greater sentence we could have received," Devinney said of the life sentence.
Devinney said he would continue to remain open to talking with the family as he has throughout the process and address any questions or concerns they have.
"I am deeply saddened by their loss," Devinney said.