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Mastic man sentenced to 20 years in girlfriend's choking death

Justin Miller, shown in this 2011 mugshot, was

Justin Miller, shown in this 2011 mugshot, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on January 15, 2014, for strangling his live-in girlfriend Teresa Heredia. Credit: SCPD

It takes about four minutes to die from strangulation, the brother of a Mastic woman who was killed that way said Thursday in Suffolk County Court as the man who did it was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Robert Heredia, brother of Teresa Heredia, 29, spoke with barely concealed contempt to her live-in boyfriend Justin Miller, 39, who pleaded guilty last month to first-degree manslaughter in her January 2012 death.

"So for four minutes, or 240 seconds, you stared into my sister's eyes as you squeezed the life out of her," Heredia told Miller as cousins and friends cried. After Miller beat and strangled Teresa Heredia in front of their then 7-month-old daughter, he cut the victim's clothes off and posed her body in another part of their house.

Robert Heredia said Miller was trying to make it look like a drug overdose, but Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Kearon said an autopsy showed she was drug-free.

Kearon said Miller's explanation in a presentence investigation -- that he strangled Heredia in self-defense when she came at him with a knife -- is "quite laughable." Miller had no injuries afterward, while Heredia had other fresh, nonfatal injuries.

Miller flatly read a brief statement in court.

"Words can't describe how sorry I am," he said, as Heredia's family snorted in disbelief. "I will do what I have to do as a man to rehabilitate myself."

Before imposing the sentence, Judge Stephen Braslow said he was upset that Miller had sent him a letter asking for an 18-year sentence instead of the 20 years his attorney, William Keahon, had negotiated for him. Miller requested the reduced sentence so that he could "start fresh."

"You see, Mr. Miller, I've got a person here who can't start fresh," Braslow said, referring to the victim. Braslow said Miller's request was an "outrage."

"It's not for me," Miller said. "It's for my daughter."

"If you really cared about your daughter, you wouldn't have murdered her mother," Braslow replied.

Robert Heredia said he was sorry Miller could not face the death penalty. He said it was clear to his family that Miller had been abusing the victim, but she refused to hear it.

"I know what I was taught about forgiveness -- that you have to forgive to be forgiven," he said. "But I don't forgive you. My family doesn't forgive you."

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