Four years after he was beaten with a hammer, stabbed and burned in his home in Plainsfield, NJ, an 87-year-old Irish man faced his attacker in court.
"The fact is I’m very fortunate to be standing here right now," Kenneth Athey told Superior Court Judge William Daniel in Elizabeth, NJ on Friday.
Reading from his handwritten statement, the retired civil engineer from Kells, Ireland continued: "Even after four years it’s still difficult to imagine the reason for the accused stabbing me ... and torching my body."
On August 25, 2008, Athey was in his Plainfield home that he shared with his wife until she died in 1998. He had just finished exercising and was about to take a shower when three assailants broke down his locked front door. The chased him into a second-floor bedroom where they captured him, brought him downstairs, tied him up and tortured him.
At around 3.pm. that afternoon, Athey regained consciousness, he found himself naked, still tied to the chair. He had been beaten, stabbed, doused with chemicals and burned.
"I woke up thinking ‘I’m having a bad dream’ and then I heard them yelling, ‘Where’s the money?’" he said in an interview later. "I thought I should have pretended I was having a heart attack. That would have been a smart thing to do."
Upstairs, one of three assailants was searching for money. A woman was stood guard over Athey.
"Ron, Hurry up!" she yelled.
"I knew if I ever survived, I had to remember that name," said Athey."But I thought, I’ll be damn lucky if I survive this."
After the trio fled with a non-existent with $300 and a few credit cards, Athey freed himself from the chair and called the police. According to The Star-Ledger, it was his detailed description that helped the police capture his attackers a few weeks later.
Ronald "Ron" Cherry, the ringleader, pleaded guilty in March 2011 to first-degree robbery and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
As part of a last-minute deal, prosecutors dropped several other charges, including attempted murder, kidnapping and aggravated assault, in return for Cherry’s guilty plea.
However, in court, Cherry, whose noted criminal record includes 11 juvenile adjudications and two adult convictions for receiving stolen property and drug possession, offered no apology and maintained his innocence despite his guilty plea.
"It’s saddening that we sit here today and I will be sentenced to 18 years and the people who did this crime are still out there," he said.
Assistant Union County Prosecutor Patricia Cronin asked the judge to sentence himto 18 years in accordance with the plea given the "cruelty, infliction of pain, excessive use of force and brutality demonstrated."
He must serve 85 percent of his sentence, making him eligible for parole in 15 years.
His two accomplices, Shevon Ricks, 27, and Robert Harris, 19, have also pleaded guilty to robbery and will be sentenced to 13 year and 10 years, respectively, next week, according to The Star-Ledger.
Athey wrote an essay to his assailants a year after the attack and shared it with reporters on Friday.
"I will not forget you ... A constant ringing in my right ear reminds me of you," he wrote. "You left me unconscious, bleeding profusely from two egg-sized swellings on my head, not caring whether I was alive or dead. I survived thanks to hard bones and regular exercise. No thanks to you."