A Suffolk jury convicted a Port Jefferson Station man Thursday of stabbing a Medford woman to death before he dismembered her body, took it to Connecticut and set it on fire.
The jury's guilty verdict was greeted in the courtroom by gasps and sobs of relief from the family of Rebecca Koster, 24. She met the defendant, Evans Ganthier, in a Holbrook bar hours before her death on Dec. 4, 2009.
Ganthier, 33, stared briefly at jurors after he heard the verdict convicting him of second-degree murder.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro said he would sentence Ganthier on Sept. 30. The maximum penalty is 25 years to life in prison.
Ganthier told Ambro he would like to challenge the verdict. The judge told him his lawyer would do that for him.
"This is like the best day of my life," Koster's mother, Barbara Ross, exulted afterward. "Becky, we got him! We got you justice!"
Ganthier's family left the courthouse in Riverhead without commenting. Defense attorney William Keahon also declined to comment.
The jury deliberated 51/2 hours. Jurors left soon after their verdict, avoiding talking to the attorneys.
"We're very grateful to the jury for their swift justice for the family," Assistant District Attorney Janet Albertson said.
The case was remarkably gruesome. Throughout the trial, jurors endured photographs of Koster's charred and dismembered body. They listened to Suffolk homicide Det. Phillip Frendo describe how Ganthier denied stabbing Koster, but admitted cutting off her fingers, toes, ears, nose and tattoos before taking the body on the ferry from Port Jefferson to Connecticut, where he set it on fire on the side of a road in North Stonington.
Later, after Koster's family and friends realized he was the last person to contact her, Ganthier used Koster's phone to send text messages to her mother, claiming she was being held captive by her boyfriend.
Keahon told jurors that his client was "despicable," "abhorrent" and "shameful" for what he did after Koster died, but he said a shoddy autopsy called the cause of Koster's death into question.
Ganthier told police that Koster began gagging in his car on the way to his house, and then tripped over some dumbbells in his garage and died a short time later.
Keahon argued that the fatal wound to Koster's liver could have come from falling hard to the floor and not from being stabbed.
But Albertson told jurors that the defense theory made no sense.
"In the end, the jury saw through the defendant's silly story for what it is," the prosecutor said after the verdict.
As thrilled as they were with the result, Koster's family said attending the trial every day for the past month was excruciating.
"It was horrible," said Koster's stepfather, Larry Ross.
"It's been a complete nightmare," said her brother, Damian Ross, 18.