William Walsh leaves Nassau County Court after pleading guilty to...

William Walsh leaves Nassau County Court after pleading guilty to murdering his wife, Leah Walsh. (May 20, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

As epithets were hurled at him, William Walsh stared straight ahead Wednesday during his sentencing to 18 years to life in prison for killing his wife.

Family members of Leah Hirschel Walsh called him "evil," a "cancer" and a "monster." He has admitted to choking her to death during an argument and dumping her body in the woods by the Long Island Expressway in North Hills. He then launched a media campaign to find her.

"He is a cancer that should be permanently excised from civilized society," the victim's brother, Josh Hirschel, said in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

The courtroom was filled with supporters of the victim wearing buttons showing a smiling picture of the 29-year-old teacher who taught special education in Glen Cove. Her mother, Matilda Hirschel, sat in front, glaring at Walsh through reddened eyes.

Walsh, 31, of Bethpage, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other changes in May, saying that he killed his wife Oct. 26, 2008, after an argument about his infidelities. If convicted after trial, he would have faced 25 years in prison on the murder charge.

He confessed to an elaborate plot to make her death look like an abduction: He dumped her body after stabbing her neck twice with a paring knife, parked her car on the side of the Seaford-Oyster Bay Expressway and let air out of a tire, sent himself loving text messages from her cell phone, then went to his in-laws' Rockville Centre home and made tearful public pleas for her return. He told reporters, "I miss her more than anything."

His plan unraveled when a highway emergency truck driver told police he saw Walsh's distinctive yellow Mustang near his wife's disabled car on the expressway the morning she was reported missing.

Walsh said he pleaded guilty to spare Leah Walsh's family the agony of a trial. His own family did not attend the sentencing, out of respect for the Hirschel family, according to defense lawyer William Petrillo of Rockville Centre.

He apologized during the sentencing. "If there was any way to change places, I would," he said, without looking at the Hirschel family. "I truly am sorry."

Prosecutor Michael Walsh, who is not related to William Walsh, said he hoped to highlight the short life of Leah Walsh through letters from relatives and friends speaking of "what a truly remarkable and giving person she was," he said.

Her father, Howard Hirschel, spoke of the loss to the "hundreds of special needs students deprived of Leah's special gifts," and of the heartbreaking task that fellow teachers had, as they explained her absence was "not an act of abandonment."

The killing and Walsh's deception were "so vile and despicable as to render him unfit to walk freely in any civilized society," Howard Hirschel said.

He then looked at his former son-in-law. "The physical brutality you showed at the time of her murder is equal only to the cowardice you showed the entire world in the hours and days afterward," he said.

Finally, Judge David Ayres told Walsh: "It is my firm belief that you should never - and it is my hope that you will never - draw a free breath ever again."

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