Mahaffey woman’s appeal rejected

Lee challenged length of sentence received for pleading guilty to third-degree murder

A Clearfield County woman who stabbed her boyfriend to death has lost her challenge to the 20- to 40-year prison sentence she received after pleading guilty to third-degree murder.

Kayce Marie Lee, 33, formerly of Mahaffey, contended that the sentence imposed 14 months ago by Clearfield County Judge Paul E. Cherry was “unreasonable” and that the judge in sentencing her did not consider mitigating factors: her remorse, her cooperation with law enforcement and the fact she suffered from battered woman syndrome.

Lee, through Clearfield attorney Heather Lynn Bozovich, appealed the sentence to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, arguing that a more appropriate sentence would have been 10 to 20 years, at the bottom, rather than the top, of Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines for third-degree murder.

The defense sought Superior Court intervention to reduce the sentence, pointing out the 20- to 40-year sentence represented an “extreme departure” from the guideline range and complained that the judge abused his discretion by barring contact with the immediate family of the victim, Robert A. Bennett, 58, and their young daughter, who was in their Mahaffey home on Feb 5, 2018, when Lee and Bennett become embroiled in a domestic dispute.

On Wednesday, a Superior Court panel affirmed Lee’s sentence, noting that the defense did not specify how it violated the state sentencing code, and therefore concluded the defense did not present a “substantial question” of law for review.

“This court is not persuaded by bald assertions or the invocation of special words … to the contrary, a concise statement must articulate the way in which the court’s conduct violated the sentencing code,” stated the opinion issued by Superior Court Judges Jack A. Panella, Deborah A. Kunselman and Kate Ford Elliott.

The opinion also emphasized that a judge’s alleged inadequate consideration of mitigating factors also does not present a question for review by the appeals court.

According to the summary of the case outlined by the Superior Court, Bennett and Lee were in their residence and became involved in a verbal squabble that turned violent.

News reports at the time indicated Bennett was upset that their daughter was not in bed although it was late in the evening, and Bennett began slapping Lee in the head.

Lee attempted to leave the home but said she was blocked by Bennett, who, it was alleged, pushed her backward and punched her in the face.

She then grabbed a kitchen knife and after suffering another blow from Bennett, made a stabbing motion.

According to the story presented to the Superior Court, Lee was unsure where she stabbed Bennett but admitted she was the one who stabbed him.

She then took their child and went to her grandmother’s home for the night.

Her attempts to locate Bennett both after the stabbing and the next day were unsuccessful.

She eventually called 911 and police found Bennett’s body 30 feet from the residence, between a driveway and swing set in the front yard.

In fleeing the dwelling, Lee would have driven past Bennett’s body, the case summary said.

The statement of facts indicated that despite her story that she had been slapped and punched, no markings were found on Lee during a physical examination.

Also, the opinion reported the sentencing judge was presented with no evidence that Lee suffered from battered woman syndrome.

Lee remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.