Saying that tourists must be made to feel they can safely visit the seaside gambling resort, Superior Court Judge Michael Donio ordered that Craig Arno of Atlantic City spend the rest of his life in prison and that his girlfriend, Jessica Kisby, serve 30 years behind bars before becoming eligible for release. Arno was sentenced to 120 years in prison and must serve 102 years before becoming eligible for parole.
Donio also is overseeing the murder case of Antoinette Pelzer, the homeless Philadelphia woman charged with stabbing to death an elderly Toronto woman and her daughter Monday morning across from Bally's Atlantic City, less than a mile from where the 2010 carjack killing began.
"Each and every person who visits Atlantic City should feel as if they can do so safely and not be in a position to succumb to a violent attack by violent criminals while they're on vacation," the judge said.
Donio had harsh words for both defendants in the May 21, 2010, kidnapping and killing of Martin Caballero, of North Bergen.
Arno and Kisby cornered Caballero in the parking garage of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, forced him into the trunk of his SUV, drove him to a rural area, stabbed him to death and dumped his body in a field before torching the vehicle to try to cover up the crimes. They stole a few hundred dollars using his ATM card.
The judge echoed the words of one prospective juror who was dismissed from the case who asked Donio a rhetorical question: Why couldn't the pair have simply robbed Caballero or stolen his vehicle, and let him live?
"I've been asking myself the same question for the past 18 months," the judge said. "Why did he have to die in the trunk of his car after being savagely stabbed?"
Kisby took a plea deal from prosecutors in February and testified against Arno. But her demeanor on the witness stand, cavalierly describing the kidnapping and killing while giggling, stretching, yawning and twirling her hair, infuriated many observers.
On Thursday, she showed a different demeanor, wiping away tears as she apologized to Caballero's family.
"I'm very sorry for your loss," she told them. "I should have stopped it and I didn't, and I'm sorry."
The attack on Caballero was interrupted when Arno's knife broke. That necessitated a drive to Kisby's mother's house to get additional knives, with Caballero lying bleeding and probably terrified in the trunk for nearly an hour before the stabbing resumed and he finally died, according to court testimony.
Arno did not speak at his sentencing, but his public defender noted Arno continues to maintain his innocence. At trial, he said Kisby was the killer.
William Cruz, a stepson of the victim, lashed out at Arno, turning to face him in the courtroom and speaking directly to him.
"Arno: Today you receive life in the cage," Cruz said, going on to describe Caballero as a loving father and friend, who loved to dance and told great stories. Cruz then contrasted his stepfather with Arno. "You're someone who nobody cares about," he said. "That's what you are: a big, ugly nothing. When you find yourself alone in your cage, don't look for God. Your real sentence is going to begin the day you die."
Libia Martinez, Caballero's wife, said she cries every day thinking about how her husband died.
"I think of how he died and how he suffered and the horrible way in which he was killed," she said though sobs. "I am suffering for his suffering."
Caballero's family has filed a lawsuit against Trump Entertainment Resorts, alleging the company failed to warn the public about a series of violent crimes that have happened either in or near the Taj Mahal's parking garage. The casino has since beefed up security in the garage and plans additional protective measures there soon.
Monday's killings of Po Lin Wan and her daughter Alice Mei See Leung, both from the Scarborough section of Toronto, happened two years to the day from when Caballero was carjacked and murdered.