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Ex-correction officer sentenced for murdering girlfriend's mother

Ralph Keppler is taken from Nassau County Police

Ralph Keppler is taken from Nassau County Police headquarters on Nov. 12, 2018. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

An ex-correction officer who used a dumbbell pipe to beat his girlfriend's mother in a Long Beach attack that caused her death nearly two years later is going to prison for 22 years to life after what a judge Tuesday called a "heinous act" sparked by two of "the seven deadly sins."

The sentencing of Ralph Keppler, 30, of Lynbrook, followed his guilty plea last year to murder, conspiracy and a weapon charge in the slaying of Theresa Kiel, a schoolteacher.

"The first two on the list are pride and greed," Acting State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn told Keppler of the "deadly sins" in a sentencing held by Skype due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"To me," Quinn also told him, "those sum up what appears to have been your motivating force for you to commit this heinous act."

Authorities have said the deadly assault was linked to a business deal that went bad.

Keppler waited for the victim to return to her apartment on the night of Dec. 4, 2016, according to prosecutors, who said he then ambushed her in the New York Avenue complex’s entrance and caused injuries that left her in a vegetative state. Kiel, 56, died in November 2018 while still hospitalized.

Last year, the former Rikers Island officer admitted while pleading guilty in Nassau County Court that he conspired with the victim's daughter, Francesca Kiel, to commit the slaying. 

Sources previously told Newsday that Francesca Kiel, 23, also pleaded guilty to murder last year while striking a deal — before Keppler's guilty plea — to testify against him as a cooperating prosecution witness.

Under her deal, which remains sealed for now, Keppler’s former live-in girlfriend will get a 13-year prison sentence, the sources said. The Lynbrook woman’s case will be back before Quinn later this month.

Keppler and Francesca Kiel stalked the victim by tracking her with GPS, Nassau prosecutor Stefanie Palma said at Tuesday's sentencing.

Keppler then lashed out in an onslaught of violence that dislodged one of the victim's eyes from its socket and crushed her skull before a bystander interrupted the beating, according to the prosecutor.

"This was a cold, calculated, well thought out and well planned attack," Palma told the judge, calling Keppler "a coldhearted, remorseless killer."

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that Keppler "deserves every day of his 22 years to life in prison" and prosecutors hope his sentence "helps Theresa's family and friends in the mourning process."  

The victim's son, Vincent Kiel, said during the sentencing that his mother was an "undeniably good" woman who was beloved by her students and who was working on creating a homeless shelter tutoring program on the day of her attack.

Vincent Kiel also confronted Keppler during the Skype proceeding, calling him an "animal." The victim's son said there was "no other way to justify" how even the most soulless person "could fathom, let alone pre-plan and follow through with taking a lead pipe to a defenseless middle-aged woman's head and bashing it in."

Keppler filed a lawsuit before the attack claiming he and his family gave the victim and her son thousands of dollars to develop a dating app, but she allegedly wasted it on cosmetic surgery and lavish cars, Newsday previously reported.

 "I can't imagine how dark your soul is to think that this was the only solution to your financial problem," the judge told Keppler on Tuesday.

Quinn also acknowledged what he called the "old-fashioned police work in the new-tech age" that had gone into solving the case. 

Authorities have said they dug up an extensive trail of evidence pointing to the couple’s guilt, including Google searches for “easiest way to kill someone” and “single skull death blow” connected to a Gmail account belonging to the victim's daughter.

She called a cab company to arrange a pickup for Keppler after the attack on her mother, according to authorities. The daughter and Keppler also communicated with burner phones on the night of the murder and later doctored a photo to make it look like Keppler was home at the time, Palma said Tuesday.

Prosecutors also said previously that authorities found the murder weapon behind a building in the area of the beating and that both the victim’s blood and Keppler’s DNA were on it.

They also said the victim, at some point before the attack, texted a friend and said Francesca had left school and moved in “with a psychotic sociopath who wants to kill me and Vince.”

Law enforcement officials said they also found texts from Keppler that included one saying the victim "got what she deserved," and another saying "whoever tried killing her or mugging her is probably gonna finish the job."

Keppler's attorney, Marc Gann, told the judge Tuesday that his client committed "a crime of passion," and that his guilty plea "was evidence of his acceptance of responsibility and his remorse."

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