Yvonne Hiller, the Lawncrest woman who shot three coworkers at the Kraft-Nabisco cookie plant in Northeast Philadelphia in 2010, was sentenced Monday to two consecutive life terms without parole.
This month, Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner found Hiller guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of LaTonya Brown, 36, and Tanya Wilson, 47; one count of attempted murder for shooting Bryant Dalton, 41; and several other offenses.
At an emotional hearing Monday, Lerner heard from the victims' relatives and Hiller's niece. Hiller spoke briefly, asking forgiveness of the victims' families and her own.
Dalton said his life "was basically destroyed" on Sept. 9, 2010, when Hiller burst into the employee break room with a gun. Hiller, who Lerner said suffered from a "long, festering mental illness," believed that her coworkers had been poisoning her for years. She argued with them that day and had been escorted by a security guard out of the building, where they mixed ingredients for Kraft snacks.
Terral Brown said her daughter, LaTonya, was scared the day of the shooting. "She told me this woman kept following her around the building. She said, 'Mom, I don't feel safe.' "
Dalton said being shot and watching his friends die had left him fearful and traumatized. "I'm not the same person. I lost a lot of myself. I'm not the father I should be," he said.
Hiller sat quietly in a black Islamic dress and head scarf, appearing stoic. When called upon by the judge, she put on a pair of black-rimmed glasses and read from a statement in a low, steady voice. She apologized and said she knew that she had needed help. "I'm not excusing what I did," she said. "I really thought they were poisoning me."
She said that she had called doctors, therapists and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and that before the shooting, "my life was taken from me by my coworkers." Going to work every day, she said, was "a living hell, subjected to pranks by my coworkers."
Hiller and her family painted a picture of a woman tormented by mental illness that was exacerbated by her coworkers. "Instead of leaving her alone or helping her, they made it worse," one of Hiller's relatives whispered before the hearing.
Hiller waived her right to a jury trial so prosecutors would not seek the death penalty. First-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. But Lerner said that, to the extent possible, he intended to send a message.
"There's no practical difference between imposing concurring or consecutive punishment," he said. "It's a need I feel to make a symbolic statement of the preciousness of these separate lives that have been lost."
Dalton and Brown's daughters Trachelle, 24, and Tyleesha, 19, said Hiller deserved the death penalty.
"There's never going to be closure," Trachelle Brown said. She recalled on the night of the killing explaining to their 6-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister that their mother was not coming home. She says she worries that their memories will fade over time.
"Hiller can call her kids from jail," Trachelle said. "All I can do is listen to my mom's voice on the answering machine over and over."