Updated: September 22, 2020 06:01 PM
Created: September 22, 2020 11:56 AM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Seventeen years after the crime, convicted murderer Richard Wilbern was sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for the 2003 killing of a man during a robbery.
“It finally has come to an end,” declared Rowena Bennett, the mother of the victim, 51-year-old Raymond Batzel. After the sentencing, Bennett, who had attended virtually all court proceedings in the case, came out of federal court and said her family can now move into the future.
Wilbern was convicted in November on federal charges of credit union robbery resulting in death for the shooting of Batzel during a robbery at the Xerox Credit union in Webster.
In court, Batzel’s daughters and his mother talked about the future that act stole from their family, and from Wilbern’s family too.
“Everything is a choice in this world, you know,” she said. “You make choices. You make choices. My children make choices.”
In an emotional statement in court, a tearful Carrie Batzel Akins, Batzel’s daughter, declared that Wilbern had robbed more than a bank but robbed “multiple futures” for her, for her family and for Wilbern’s own family. Only 13 when her father was killed, she accused Wilbern of inflicting “many scars” on all Raymond Batzel’s loved ones.
She described feeling her father close to her at every milestone in her life, including her wedding where he didn’t walk her up the aisle and was represented only by an empty seat, and the birth of her son. She described introducing her son to his grandfather at her dad’s grave.
Batzel’s daughter, Shannon, spoke of losing time, and life lessons, and “that special something” her father had given the family.
Rowena Bennett said of Wilbern “Somewhere, he must have gone astray,” and repeatedly asserted “you have to make choices in this world.” Of Wilbern and her son, she asserted “both of these men could have been a big influence in their communities.”
In final statements before sentencing, prosecutor Douglas Gregory called Wilbern a “sociopath.”
“An individual who literally, in my view, was able to walk into a credit union, put a gun to another man’s head, pull that trigger and kill him instantly, and then walk the streets for the next 13 years like nothing happened,” Gregory said.
The 2003 murder of Raymond Batzel was a mystery for 13 years until 2016 when a witness pointed him out and DNA from an umbrella left at the scene identified Wilbern, who had been previously fired from Xerox and unsuccessfully sued the company.
To the end, Wilbern and his lawyers insisted he is innocent and in court Tuesday Wilbern accused witnesses of lying, accused prosecutors of a “lynch mob mentality” and said again “I did not murder Raymond Batzel.”
“I would suggest that Mr. Wilbern is probably a little bitter right now. Obviously, he is facing life in prison,” Gregory said. “He is an individual who just does not want to recognize the truth. He does not want to accept what the facts showed, that he is in fact the person who committed this robbery, and committed this murder.”
Wilbern’s defense team accused the U.S. Attorney’s office of “tunnel vision” in its prosecution of Wilbern and called DNA evidence “flawed.” Wilbern himself called his prosecution racially motivated, evidence of “two-Americas” and an unequal system of justice.
In a brief exchange with Wilbern, District Judge Charles Siragusa dismissed that allegation and declared any allegation of racial motives in the prosecution to be “100% wrong.”
Gregory said the accusation was a familiar one from Wilbern.
“He does believe that there are two justice systems,” Gregory added. “But, in this case, I can’t stress enough, the facts' support of the convection, whether he was a white individual or an African-American, the facts convicted him in this case. Simple as that.”
During sentencing proceedings, Siragusa repeatedly mentioned that a sentence life in prison was a foregone conclusion once Wilbern was convicted because it’s what the law requires. But in passing the sentence, he said he agreed with it, saying to Wilbern, “Will you die in prison? You will die in prison, as well you should.”
As part of the sentence, Siragusa ordered that Wilbern also pay $482,852 in restitution, to Batzel’s family, to the credit union and to the
Batzel family’s insurance company. At the same time, the judge also admitted it was unlikely that money would ever be paid with Wilbern headed to prison.
After years of coming to court, Rowena Bennet says her family should move forward, but that she knows her family hasn’t heard the last of Richard Wilbern.
“There will be appeals, I am sure,” she said. “And I just hope I live long enough to go through all of the appeals.”
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