A 23-year-old South Jersey man was sentenced to 40 years in state prison Friday for the 2017 shooting death of a woman who was sleeping in her home on her family’s Camden County blueberry farm.
A jury had convicted Tyler Dralle, of Vineland, and his codefendant, Kwamere Benjamin, 20, of New Castle, Del., of murder, burglary, weapon offenses, and related charges in the slaying of Deanna Scordo, 45, during a robbery of her and her father’s Winslow Township farmhouse.
Benjamin was sentenced earlier this month to 38 years in prison.
At Dralle’s sentencing Friday, Camden County Superior Court Judge Frederick Schuck said Dralle had displayed “gleeful, gloating behavior” and a “chilling lack of remorse” after the murder, but also noted that the crimes occurred during a “single period of aberrant behavior.”
Dralle set the crimes in motion and was the connection to the blueberry farm, Assistant Prosecutor Peter Gallagher said. For weeks, Dralle drove his girlfriend to her job at the Scordo family’s farm and then decided with his codefendant to target it like “a thief in the night,” the prosecutor said.
“We don’t know with any specificity who had the gun in his hand,” Gallagher said, while adding that he had argued to the jury it was more likely in Benjamin’s hands. Still, he said, it didn’t matter who actually fired the three shots at Scordo, because both men had brought the gun with them to the Bairdmore Avenue farmhouse at about 3:50 a.m. June 25, 2017.
After the slaying, Gallagher said, Dralle drove his girlfriend to the farm again in the morning, pretending like nothing had happened, and continued to “maintain that deception to detectives” to mislead them in their investigation.
Dralle, a former football player at Buena Regional High School, sat in the courtroom Friday and told the judge: “I still maintain my innocence, but I would like to say to the victim’s family I’m truly, genuinely sorry for what happened to her. ... I just ask that the Scordo family could forgive me.”
But Scordo’s sister, Lynn, told him earlier during the hearing that she couldn’t, and believes he is guilty.
“You committed a heinous crime,” said Lynn Scordo, who appeared at the hearing via video. “I know we’re going to hear what an awesome kid you were. ... You were popular, you were a football player. ... All that doesn’t matter now. Because my sister is dead because of you. Three and a half years later, I still can’t forgive you.
“You murdered my harmless, sleeping sister in her bed,” she said.
She spoke of her sister’s “beautiful smile” and “contagious laughter,” and showed the judge a photo.
Denise Scordo, the victim’s sister-in-law, also appearing via Zoom, noted that just 10 days before the murder, Dralle broke a man’s arm with a metal pipe and was charged with aggravated assault and a weapon offense, but was released from custody while awaiting trial. (Dralle later pleaded guilty to one charge, the weapon offense, in that case.)
“Most of the public probably doesn’t know or follow what the criminal justice reform is,” Denise Scordo said. “We want to place on the record that pretrial release needs to be reevaluated. ... We the citizens of New Jersey voted for this, but it isn’t functioning how it was intended to. ... The public needs to be more aware of this turnstile-doorway of nonpunishment.”
She recalled her sister-in-law as a wonderful aunt, a jokester, and her confidante.
Kathy Dralle, the defendant’s mother, said her heart breaks for Scordo’s family, but also said there’s a different side to her son, and that he is loved by his family, including his twin sister. “I’m begging you as a mother,” she told the judge, “to please, please take into consideration all those letters that were written to you by not only family and friends,” but by coaches, teachers, and law enforcement personnel who know her son.
Defense attorney Jill Cohen pointed out that youthful offenders have a deficiency in their ability to make good choices. Dralle, who was 20 at the time of the crimes, had followed the law for most of his life and “has learned from his mistakes,” she said.