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Judge assails Thomas Costa before sentencing him in fatal hit-run of jogger Karen Benjamin

Thomas Costa of Coram stands inside a Central

Thomas Costa of Coram stands inside a Central Islip courtroom on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014, shortly before being sentenced in the June 2013 hit-and-run in Mount Sinai that killed Karen Benjamin, 56, of Coram. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk judge rejected a Coram man's apology Thursday for hitting a jogger and leaving her fatally injured in the street as insincere, and said the maximum sentence of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison was inadequate for such cases.

Thomas Costa, 32, had pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. He hit jogger Karen Benjamin, 56, while driving his father's BMW in Mount Sinai, continued to his father's nearby house and covered the blood-spattered, smashed windshield with a blanket June 23, 2013. Benjamin was in a coma for three weeks before she died. Costa had pleaded guilty once before, but State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho later vacated that plea after Costa minimized his guilt in a routine pre-sentence investigation.

Thursday, Camacho made clear that Costa's crime and his behavior afterward were abhorrent, labeling him "self-centered, cowardly, selfish."

Camacho told Costa he tries to look for something hopeful in every person he sentences, but couldn't do it in this case.

"It's very difficult to find anything redeeming about you," Camacho said to Costa.

"I don't know why," Costa replied.

Camacho sentenced Costa, who was already on parole for burglary and drug convictions, to the maximum. "My strongest recommendation [to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision] is that you receive no programs that could lessen your time in prison and that you serve every single day of the maximum sentence," Camacho said.

The judge expressed frustration that the sentence couldn't be stiffer, echoing repeated calls by District Attorney Thomas Spota for the State Legislature to increase the penalties for hit-and-run fatalities.

Earlier, Costa flatly read an apology statement. "I know the Benjamin family will never forgive me and, frankly, I can't blame them," he said. "I've learned you can't run from the things you do."

His attorney, Michael Brown, urged Camacho to stick to the terms of Costa's original plea deal, which called for a top sentence of 2 to 6 years.

Benjamin's family said they'll have to live without a devoted mother, wife and sister.

"Thomas Costa could have stopped," said Benjamin's daughter, Lindsay Benjamin, 27. "Thomas Costa is a cowardly man. There is no remorse."

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco said Costa's lies about the case and other behavior after his arrest show his lack of remorse. Family members thanked her and Det. Robert Chase, saying that without their persistence the outcome would have been even worse.

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