Cornell Grad Student Sentenced for Wife’s Slaying

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A Cornell University graduate student who was convicted in April of killing his wife—just months after their wedding—has been sentenced to up to life in prison.

Blazej Kot, 25, a doctoral candidate studying information science at the Ivy League school, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder of his wife, Carolyn Coffee. A jury had convicted Kot of second-degree murder, arson and tampering with evidence after a three-week trial.

According to his attorney, Kot had suffered from depression, paranoia, and other acute symptoms, all related to a syndrome called Capgras delusion. Classified as a misidentification syndrome that is common in patients who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, but that also occurs as a result of brain injury and dementia, Capgras delusion is a disorder in which the person believes that a friend or relative has been replaced by an identical imposter.

Kot, who was born to Polish parents but who was a New Zealand resident in the U.S. on a student visa, had taken a leave of absence from his doctoral program in order to work at a business startup, claimed that 60- to 80-hour work weeks combined with financial stress contributed to his mental illness. The delusion that Coffey had been replaced by an imposter led him to slash her throat on a recreational trail located a few hundred yards from their Ithaca, New York apartment in June 2009. According to authorities, Kot later set fire to the apartment in an attempt to cover up the crime. He also led law enforcement on a high-speed chase after a state park officer noticed Kot sitting in a car with blood on his arms. During the five-mile pursuit, Kot attempted to slash his own throat, but was airlifted to a hospital.

Kot and Coffee had met at Cornell University, where Coffey was a postdoctoral researcher, and the pair married in October 2008.

At the sentencing hearing before Thompkins County Court Judge John Rowley, Michael Coffey placed an urn containing his daughter’s ashes on a table and asked that Kot receive the maximum penalty for his crime. The judge sentenced the 25-year-old to up to life in prison on the murder charge, as well as a year in prison for each of the lesser charges.

Kot apologized to the victim’s family during the hearing, telling them that he loved her and that he hoped to recover from mental illness with treatment.

 

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