A man who slashed to death a 6-year-old Camden boy as the youngster tried to defend an older sister from a sexual assault was sentenced Thursday to a life term plus 35 years.
The 2012 attack aroused widespread outrage, along with admiration for the heroism of Dominick Andujar, whose fight enabled his injured sister, Amber, to flee the house and seek help from a neighbor.
In sentencing Osvaldo Rivera, 33, Superior Court Judge Michele Fox noted that his crimes were heinous and that he had expressed no remorse.
Rivera, who authorities said lived in the neighborhood and had broken into the Ware Street house that September night, declined to make a statement in court Thursday.
Amber Andujar fought back tears as she told the judge of being attacked on her 12th birthday, calling it "the most terrifying day of my life."
"I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me," the teen told the judge. "Then I remember seeing Dominick."
Her brother died that Sept. 2, his throat slit. He had awakened to screams and found his sister under attack in the living room of their home. He fought. Rivera took a butcher knife from the kitchen and slashed the throats of both children.
"Today, I stand here as a survivor," said the girl, dressed in black with a red jacket featuring a picture of Dominick and the words "My lil hero."
(The Inquirer typically does not name victims of sexual assault, but Amber Andujar's name has been widely published, and on Thursday her family did not object to identifying her.)
Rivera, who rejected a plea deal and was tried and convicted, showed no emotion throughout the four-hour hearing.
Rivera's defense attorney, Marcia Soast, said Rivera, with no history of violence, had changed months earlier after his brother died following an apparent seizure. At the time of the crimes, Rivera told police, he had been smoking marijuana laced with PCP, a concoction known as "wet" that is known to cause hallucinations.
Fox sentenced Rivera to life in prison for the death of Dominick, followed by an additional 35 years for the attacks on his sister. Life is considered 75 years, and by state law, violent inmates must serve 85 percent of their sentence before they are considered for parole. That means, the judge said, Rivera legally would not be eligible for parole for 91 years.
Camden County Assistant Prosecutor Christine Shah had asked for the maximum, telling the judge, "If this case does not warrant a life sentence, I cannot imagine one that does."
The courtroom remained silent as Amber Andujar, now 14, spoke. Her mother, Debbie Burgos; older sister, Tiarra, 17; and younger sister, Amy, 11, stood nearby.
"That night, he took my innocence that I would never get back," Andujar said. She recalled that she had been happy earlier that night when her family sang for her birthday. Later, she said, she recalled hearing screams, waking in the hospital, and the heartache of being too ill to attend her brother's funeral.
Dominick, she said, could be annoying, like most brothers, but he was "very loving, Dominick was amazing." She concluded, "Your honor, we deserve justice."
Both of her sisters also spoke. Tiarra Andujar said she woke from the noise and found her brother on the living-room floor.
Amy said she woke that night when a police officer checked on her in bed to make sure she was alive. He asked her to put her shoes on, scooped her up, and covered her eyes as he carried her out.
Burgos spoke about her sadness and anger. Burgos, who has kidney problems and felt ill that night, had left the children at home and gone to the hospital. She said Dominick cared deeply for his family.
"He would pray, 'God, please help my mom out with these kids,' " she said. Other times he would call out to her, "Here's my heart. Catch it, Mom." If she was leaving, Burgos said, he would yell out, "I love you and hurry back."
Burgos said that shortly before the attacks, her son had asked a store clerk to put sneakers aside for him until his mother had enough money to buy them. Burgos said she never imagined she later would get those blue sneakers to dress him for his funeral.
After Dominick's death, Burgos said, she picked up his school journal, in which he wrote a sentence every day. The last entry caught her eye: "I am a superhero. I save people."