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Sinegal sentenced to life in prison

BEAUMONT — Gripping a wooden divide separating her from her attacker, Brenda Choate rose confidently from her seat as she finally got an opportunity to come face-to-face with the man who tried to kill her almost two years ago.

“I would really like to know why you tried to kill me,” Choate, the only survivor of an April 21, 2005 crime spree that claimed the lives of two elderly Port Arthur women, asked admitted killer Gary Sinegal Monday in Judge John Stevens’ courtroom.

Sinegal, 43, pleaded guilty to capital murder charges on Feb. 22. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of Louise Tamplin, 81, and Margie Gafford, 86, on Monday.

“I also want to know why you quit beating me and ran,” Choate, standing between her husband Robert and son Jason, asked Sinegal during the victim’s impact statement portion of Monday’s hearing. “I think you thought you heard sirens. You didn’t. I am God’s child and I think he used me to take you down.”

Choate positively identified Sinegal as her attacker on the balmy evening of April 21, 2005, leading authorities to their suspect in the brutal slayings of Tamplin and Gafford, 86. Port Arthur police officers also tried to link Sinegal to the death of Dorothy Barrett, 82, who was found dead in a similar fashion as Tamplin and Gafford only three days prior.

Sinegal, who was sentenced to prison for four years for the 1980 beating and robbery of a 77-year-old, entered into a plea agreement with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office in February for a sentence of life in prison. In return for Sinegal’s life sentence, the district attorney’s office dismissed cases in the death of Gafford and the assault of Choate.

“I read in the media that you confessed to the murders of Mrs. Tamplin and Mrs. Gafford so that their families could have closure. If you are really sorry, then why didn’t plead guilty to the death of Dorothy Barrett,” Choate questioned her attacker.

Barrett’s daughter, as well as the family of Louise Tamplin, also took an opportunity to address a stoic Sinegal during his sentencing Monday.

“I may look familiar to you because I look like my mother,” Valda Simon, Barrett’s daughter, told a silent Sinegal. “My mother was the first woman you attacked. I know you have not confessed to her murder, but I want you to know that her death has caused a lot of pain in my family.”

Simon said she forgave Sinegal for the death of her “very sweet and caring mother” because it is what God would want her to do.

“I pray for your salvation,” she added. “Because this justice today does not come close to the judgment you will receive from God on the final day of your life.”

A visibly shaken daughter of Tamplin told her mother’s killer that he would never know the heartache that her family had endured at his hand.

“You have forever impacted our family with the brutality of our mother’s death,” she said. “We hoped that we could care for our mother in her final days. Sadly, she was not surrounded by the loving faces of her friends and family when she died. The last face she saw was yours. The last thing she saw was evil.”

Sinegal, shackled with arm and leg restraints, stood emotionless as he also heard statements from Stevens about his crimes.

“There are different degrees of crime,” Stevens said. “You have committed the most serious of all. You brutally killed these elderly ladies. Ladies who were assets not only to their families but to this community. You are what nightmares are made of.”

Tamplin, Gafford and Barrett were all found in their Port Arthur homes beaten to death — their bodies hidden in their bedroom closets — in April of 2005.

Prosecutor Ed Shettle said he has “lived the Sinegal case” since the Port Arthur native’s arrest in 2005.

“This sentencing is satisfying in the regard that it is closure to the families,” he said. “Because of his age, Gary Sinegal will most likely never see the light of day again. I personally would have liked to pursue the death penalty. But because of information we gained from an expert witness, we learned that Mr. Sinegal could be classified as mentally retarded.”

The U.S. Supreme Court prohibits the execution of persons found to be mentally retarded.

Sinegal will be transported by a Jefferson sheriff’s deputy to a state correctional facility. He will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.