Frances Caccavale, convicted last month of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her husband, who she claimed had abused her for years, was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in prison.
Pasadena Superior Court Judge Coleman A. Swart imposed the maximum term for the 70-year-old Temple City woman, rejecting both a defense motion for a new trial and an expert witness's portrait of Caccavale as a battered wife who had endured 49 years of abuse before killing her husband in self-defense in August, 1984.
The judge said Caccavale probably experienced physical abuse at the hands of her husband, Frank. However, he refused to consider the question of whether Caccavale actually suffered from a "battered-wife syndrome" that could have justified or lessened the seriousness of her crime.
Swart said the jury had already determined that Caccavale did not fit the syndrome found in women who submit to prolonged periods of abuse before taking revenge, often violently.
The harsh sentence was dictated by the brutal nature of the crime and the need for deterrence, the judge said. He agreed, however, that Caccavale did not pose a threat to society and granted a defense motion to free her on $10,000 bail pending an appeal.
"This was not a case of one or two stabbings in the back, but after repeated stabbings, the victim was turned over and needlessly cut and taunted with a knife," Swart said. "To let her go unpunished would lead only to anarchy, with individuals deciding for themselves when it is justifiable to take a life."
As the sentence was pronouned, the courtroom was filled with loud gasps from a group of battered women who--in a show of support for Caccavale--wore special T-shirts and carried placards.
The tiny, bespectacled grandmother of three, who minutes earlier had bristled with irritation as the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. J. Whitney Morris, called her family "liars," sobbed and slumped under the arm of her attorney, David Chapman.
Outside the courtroom, Caccavale said she had spent all last week packing her belongings in anticipation of going to prison. She said she had mixed feelings about an appeal.
"I was hoping it would be all over with," she said. "Sometimes I just wish I would go to sleep and never wake up."
The defense attempted to show that Caccavale's actions were mitigated by a history of physical and psychological abuse. Nancy Kaser-Boyd, a clinical psychologist specializing in spousal abuse, told the court that Caccavale displayed many of characteristics of the syndrome, including a "learned helplessness" that tied her to her abuser.
Morris contended that a taped confession and other evidence proved that Caccavale stabbed her husband 17 times not out of self-defense but because she was angry that he was about to end their marriage.