HEIDELBERG, Germany — A Heidelberg hospital medic was sentenced Tuesday to no more than 99 years in prison for the murder of his teenage girlfriend, whose throat he slit in her barracks room in January.

Pfc. Mario Lesesne also was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and reduced in rank for the premeditated murder of Pfc. Valerie Gamboa, shortly after his anguished parents had asked the military judge for mercy.

“He’s my only son,” said Reginald Lesesne, who’d attended their son’s two-day court-martial after arriving from North Carolina. “He was a good kid. He was so quiet,” Lesesne’s father, a retired soldier, told Col. James Pohl. “I just don’t understand what went wrong … I beg you, I ask you to please have mercy on my son.”

But prosecutors, who had asked for the maximum sentence of life without parole, reminded Pohl of the terrible pain that Valerie Gamboa’s parents, who also testified Tuesday, will always suffer from her brutal death.

Gamboa, 19, the first in her family to graduate from high school, and assigned to the 1st Personnel Command in Schwetzingen, was stabbed more than 20 times early on Jan. 21. Prosecutors argued she was killed because she was breaking up with the jealous, controlling Lesesne.

“They’ll never see her get married or have children,” Capt. Ingolf Maurstad said of Gamboa’s family in his closing argument. “They’ll always ask, ‘Why did this selfish man do this?’ And there’s no answer and there’s no reason and there’s no excuse.”

Lesesne, 26, took the witness stand before sentencing, saying he “apologized greatly” for the pain he’d caused, but that “this never was an issue of control or jealousy.” He also mentioned in his short remarks that Gamboa had been “stubborn.”

On Monday, when Pohl asked Lesesne why he had killed Gamboa, Lesesne said that he didn’t know. Lesesne said he’d tried to kill Spc. Jamie Kaskowitz, Gamboa’s roommate, because he wanted no witnesses.

Lesesne had reached a plea agreement with V Corps, the convening authority, before trial. He pleaded guilty to Gamboa’s murder, the attempted murder of Kaskowitz and the assault of her boyfriend, Spc. Larry Thomas, in exchange for the no-more-than-99-years sentence.

His defense hoped that the trial judge might give a lower, superceding sentence. But at the trial, prosecutors convinced Pohl that the murder had been premeditated. That required Pohl to give a minimum sentence of life with the possibility of parole, and he did. So the plea agreement stands.

In practical terms, the two sentences are similar, and because they’re indeterminate, a parole board will have final say in how long Lesesne will be imprisoned.

Many tears were shed in Tuesday’s courtroom.

Kaskowitz’s previous testimony, at Lesesne’s Article 32 hearing and on Monday, had been matter-of-fact and dry-eyed — even as she described hearing Gamboa scream, seeing Lesesne standing over her and, after she asked, “Mario, what the (expletive) are you doing?” watched him slit Gamboa’s throat with a steak knife.

Too angry to cry, she later said, Kaskowitz had remained cooly contained even as she described Lesesne’s leaping over to her and stabbing her, and when she described how Thomas ran in, hit Lesesne, wrestled the knife out of his hand and saved her life.

Kaskowitz and Thomas are engaged to be married now. She’s three months pregnant.

And when she was asked on Tuesday about the effect of Lesesne’s crimes on her life, she began to weep.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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