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Judge grants Sebena parole eligibility

Benjamin G. Sebena is led into the courtroom on Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 in Milwaukee. Sebena, an Iraq War veteran, initially pleaded insanity. But he changed his plea in June after two doctors concluded that his mental-health issues weren't severe enough to justify an insanity plea. He was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Sebena was convicted of ambushing 30-year-old Jennifer Sebena, a Wauwatosa police officer, as she conducted a solo pre-dawn patrol on Christmas Eve. He told investigators he was a jealous husband. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Gary Porter)

Ben Sebena is led into the courtroom on Friday in Milwaukee. Sebena, an Iraq War veteran, was sentenced to life in prison with a chance of parole for killing his police officer wife. (AP Photo/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Gary Porter)

A former Marine who shot and killed his Wauwatosa police officer wife on Christmas Eve will be eligible for parole in 35 years, a Milwaukee County judge ruled Friday.

Ben Sebena, 30, was sentenced to life in prison by Judge David Borowski for shooting his wife, Jennifer, in the head and face multiple times while she was on duty. After his insanity defense fell apart, Sebena pleaded guilty to first-degree intentional homicide.

But Borowski ended up taking into consideration Sebena’s post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, as requested in a sentencing memorandum filed this week by Sebena’s attorney, Michael Steinle of Terschan, Steinle, Hodan & Ganzer Ltd. Sebena did a tour of duty in Iraq and killed dozens of people while serving, court papers state.

The memorandum cited Porter vs. McCollum, a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that says the U.S. “has a long tradition of according leniency to veterans in recognition of their service.”

Borowski, in his hour-long remarks Friday, noted the similarities among Sebena and the Porter defendant. Though he noted Sebena committed an “act of war” in Wauwatosa on Christmas Eve.

“… Despite their struggles, he certainly at one point in time loved his wife. And it’s at least possible in his tortured, tortured thought process last year, he may have been doing something that he thought wrongly was some sort of agreement or informal pact,” Borowski said, referring to a claim that Sebena made about concocting a suicide pact with his wife.

The hearing, which lasted more than 2-1/2 hours and was watched by a courtroom full of family and Wauwatosa police officers, saw family members from both sides testify about the ramifications of Sebena’s actions. A forensic psychiatrist also testified to the severity of Sebena’s mental illness.

Sebena himself made some brief comments, saying he has asked God for forgiveness.

“You’re going to make your choice,” Sebena told the judge. “It’s your decision, but right now I know for a fact that I know for the rest of my life I’m going to be in prison for taking away my wife, the one love of my life.”

The sentencing hearing mainly centered on the thought processes Sebena had when he plotted and acted upon his intention to kill his wife.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams, who argued that Sebena should be eligible for parole in no less than 50 years, told Borowski that the evidence clearly showed Sebena’s actions were those of a jealous husband. The fact that Sebena planned the act and carried it out in such a horrific way, he said, was evidence of something more than post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The defendant has shown signs of jealousy, irrational reaction to her … normal relations with men in the past and perhaps that’s why he did this and that’s why she’s so disfigured,” Williams said.

But Sebena’s attorney argued otherwise. He said to just say the shooting was just out of jealousy would be to minimize the severe pain and suffering that his client goes through on a daily basis, as well as on the day when he killed his wife.

“To say that there is jealousy, that it’s hatred, that’s just not true,” Steinle said. “That’s ignoring everything that is in these police reports. This is a man calling out for help, and we missed it. Everybody missed it.”

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