Clayton man gets life in double murder case

DOVER — A Clayton man received life in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder on Thursday regarding the death of his estranged wife and her mother late last year.

Speaking through his attorney, Gilbert E. Rochester, 66 at the time of the incident, communicated that his plea was intended to avoid putting the victim’s families through a trial. Also, he took responsibility and expressed regret for his actions during a hearing lasting approximately 25 minutes in Kent County Superior Court.

10dsn Gilbert L. Rochester by .

Gilbert L. Rochester

Louise M. Cavuto Carrow, 80, and Mary C. Lane, 56, died when attacked at their residence at 334 Hawkey Branch Road east of Smyrna on Dec. 13, 2015, police said. Rochester was holding a knife when located in some nearby woods shortly afterward and taken into custody, authorities said.

While not excusing Rochester’s actions or avoiding responsibility for the results, attorney Lloyd Schmid explained that the defendant was overwhelmed by the stress of a recent cancer diagnosis, job loss, a recent stroke and financial issues. With divorce proceedings ongoing, he was living at his sister’s residence, sleeping on a couch.

Speaking loudly into a sound system on high volume due to Rochester’s limited hearing capacity (he had just one of his two hearing aids available), Resident Judge William Witham — suffering from a sinus condition limiting his voice level — repeatedly asked the defendant if he understood the meaning of the plea and immediate sentencing.

At times Mr. Schmid had to repeat the court’s inquiries to his client standing next to him, and the bespectacled, white haired Rochester said he was aware of all ramifications of the plea, which he was taking willingly.

When Judge Witham advised that he had turned up the volume to maximum sound at the podium, Mr. Schmid responded that “By and large it’s working, your honor.”

Immediate sentencing was preferable, Mr. Schmid said, so Rochester could be placed in the general prison population and have easier access to medical treatment for his cancer.

The judge acknowledged Rochester was experiencing difficulties at the time of the murders but still completely responsible and accountable for his actions that warranted the most severe sentence available.

A family remembers

Antonio Moreno, Ms. Lane’s brother-in-law, spoke before the court and described the memory of her being “vivacious” and full of “joy (and) “laughter.”

“Those are the things that we want to remember,” he said.

Mr. Moreno said only God can cast an eternal judgment on Rochester’s actions, and believed the involved families have drawn closer together during the ordeal. The families communicate daily, he said, and regularly leave flowers during gravesite visits.

Prosecuting Deputy Attorney General Greg Babowal hopes that the life sentence without possibility of probation or parole would provide some sense of closure that the family is “entitled to and deserves.” Even the maximum sentence, he said, would not achieve what the family wanted most — bringing their loved ones back.

A second first-degree murder charge and a weapons charge were not further prosecuted. Rochester was ordered to pay restitution and have no contact with the Carrow or Lane families.

According to police investigation, Rochester parked a vehicle approximately a mile from murder scene, walked onto the property at approximately 7:42 a.m. and initiated a deadly assault on Ms. Carrow as she walked toward a detached garage while readying to leave for church.

Ms. Lane was stabbed to death, authorities said, and her body was found in the detached garage.

Mr. Scmid said Rochester was at his in-law’s residence two week before to help a building project.

“Things appeared to be OK but under the surface there were tensions.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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