This article was originally published in Newsday on July 27, 1994
Before being sentenced by a judge yesterday to 15 years to life in prison, John Esposito bowed his head, fighting back tears, as the hurt of the 11-year-old girl he held in a dungeon for 16 days resonated through a Suffolk County courtroom.
"He made me feel dirty," sixth-grader Katie Beers said in a statement prepared with her therapist and read into the record by a prosecutor yesterday.
"I didn't know what he was going to do to me," Assistant District Attorney Eileen Powers continued, reading the words Katie used to describe her nightmarish captivity. "Even though now I'm safe I still worry all the time. I worry about being taken away. I worry that someone might hurt me."
Esposito, a slight, 45-year-old Bay Shore contractor, then lost his composure, breaking into sobs, as he made a rambling apology, explaining to the court that "in my own strange way . . . I believed in my mind that I was in some way going to help Katie Beers." When Esposito kidnaped the girl on Dec. 28, 1992, and held her in a subterranean vault he built under his home, she was living in a household where she was saddled with adult chores and where her godmother's husband was subjecting her to sexual abuse.
Yesterday, as Esposito stood before Suffolk County Court Judge Joel Lefkowitz in Riverhead, his wrists were handcuffed behind his back and he read as his attorney turned the pages of a four-page typed statement.
"I am not the monster that people think I am," Esposito read in a soft, childlike voice. "My only hope is that someday Katie will find it in her heart to forgive me, and that the real John Esposito is someone who really loved and truly cared about her."
But the judge made it clear yesterday that the only reason he was limiting Esposito's sentence to 15 years to life in state prison was because Esposito had reached a plea agreement with Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. to spare the young victim from testifying. Esposito could have faced 25 years to life, but now he only needs to serve another 13 1/2 years in order to be eligible for parole.
The girl, who signed her statement "Katherine Katie Marie Beers," did testify in an unrelated sexual abuse trial earlier this month against Salvatore Inghilleri, the husband of her godmother. A jury took little more than an hour to find him guilty. He will be sentenced Aug. 9.
Under a plea bargain, Esposito pleaded guilty on June 16 to first-degree kidnaping, the top count in a grand jury indictment. Charges that alleged he also sexually abused the girl and made false statements to police detectives investigating her whereabouts were dropped.
In sentencing Esposito yesterday, Lefkowitz noted that a probation report found he "is a classic case of a person with arrested development."
"Katherine Beers was forced to endure the horror of 16 days of underground captivity, at times in chains and under sexual assault, never knowing if her ordeal would end," the judge read. "She observed her birthday under those conditions, alone and undoubtedly afraid. The defendant's behavior was premeditated, selfish and outrageous. He richly deserves the punitive sentence mandated by his conviction."
The probation report also makes many observations about Esposito's life and personality that lend clarity to his motivation in abducting Katie. "He had a lifelong inability to relate in appropriate fashion to adults," his attorney, Andrew B. Siben, of Bay Shore, said, referring to the report. The report notes that after Esposito's mother, Rose, and one of his brothers, Patrick, died in close succession in 1991, "he also became fearful that he would lose Katie," Siben said.
Katie was one of the many children whose company he sought out. While Esposito had been a longtime friend of Katie's mother, Marilyn Beers, brother John Beers, and the Inghilleris, he also had been mentors to unofficial "little brothers." Children were known to flock to his Bay Shore home, where his garage was filled with games.
Catterson, after the sentencing, described Esposito as "a perfect example of a true pedophile."
But only once before had Esposito's fascination with children led to trouble with the law. In 1977, he'd been caught by Nassau police leading a young boy from Sunrise Mall in Massapequa to his car. The boy began to cry, and Esposito fled. A month later, Esposito was arrested when security guards recognized him wandering around the mall again. He pleaded guilty to a charge of unlawful imprisonment, keeping the incident a secret from family and friends.
Fifteen years later, Esposito built a 6by 7-foot dungeon under his home at 1416 Saxon Ave. that could only be reached by moving a 100-pound piece of cement foundation, crawling down a verticle shaft and then through a lateral passageway. Esposito last month stunned authorities when he admitted the bunker was built one year in advance with Katie in mind. "It was constructed to hold Katie," Esposito admitted when he pleaded guilty.