Onyeri Gets Life in Prison

Maximum sentence after attempted murder of judge

Julie Kocurek in 2016 (Photo by Jana Birchum)

On Tuesday, Travis County State District Judge Julie Kocurek spent her 54th birthday in another judge's courtroom, watching the man who nearly killed her nearly three years ago receive the maximum punishment – life in prison, as U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel sentenced Chimene Onyeri on the 17 charges for which he was convicted back in April.

Those charges did not include attempted capital murder; Onyeri was instead found guilty on racketeering, mail and wire fraud, identity theft, and witness tampering charges, related to his extensive criminal "enterprise" in Texas and Louisiana. But Onyeri did admit in court to firing the shots that put Kocurek in the hospital for six weeks and left her missing a finger, among other permanent injuries, and the racketeering charge relates to his preparations for that attack.

During testimony on Monday, prosecutors focused on Onyeri's past and potential future acts of violence, including details of two prior murders – in 2008 and 2015 – in which Onyeri was implicated but never charged. Kocurek was targeted and attacked in her driveway, with her son Will in the car, in November of 2015 because Onyeri feared the judge would send him back to prison for a probation violation. Both prosecutors and Yeakel highlighted the gravity of attempted murder of a public servant in asking for, and then granting, the maximum sentence. (In the federal system, there is no parole of a life sentence.)

As he did at the April trial, Onyeri talked and talked, for nearly an hour, at the Monday hearing, in ways that did not exactly help his case. (His attorneys had to stop him at trial.) He continues to claim that he only intended to scare Kocurek and didn't know she was inside her SUV, but also apologized to Kocurek and her family, while also describing the impact of the case on his family and that it was his birthday. "My whole life, I never assaulted a woman," Onyeri told the court.

Julie and Will Kocurek think otherwise; in their own statements, they described the physical and psychological trauma they've encountered and their constant fears for their safety. After the sentence was handed down, the judge told reporters, "It feels so good to wake up in the morning and know that my family is safe from Mr. Onyeri and his associates. ... I'm thankful every day to be given a chance at life again."

Those associates, Marcellus Burgin and Rasul Scott, pleaded guilty to racketeering and will be sentenced next month. In addition to his sentence, Onyeri was ordered to undergo mental health treatment and pay more than $170,000 in restitution; he and his attorneys have 14 days to file for an appeal.

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Chimene OnyeriJulie Kocurek, Chimene Onyeri, Julie Kocurek, Will Kocurek, Lee Yeakel, racketeering

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